Elvis leaves senior fans all shook up

Impersonator: `The King' rocks Westminster Senior Center with rousing tunes and trademark hips.

July 25, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

They lined the halls, filled the cafeteria seats and paced the sidewalks outside of the Westminster Senior Center as they waited nearly an hour after the appointed showtime to hear that "Elvis is in the building."

Delayed by traffic and misdirection, Elvis Presley, in the person of Tom Connelly, arrived driving a recreational vehicle, wearing gold-rimmed shades and with an entourage of one - his sound man. The pair quickly set up speakers and microphone. Then the star retreated to the RV and donned a glittery $5,000 replica of the famous Aloha Eagle outfit, complete with cape. It is one of six ersatz Elvis ensembles the impersonator owns.

Elvis belted out his opening number, a rousing rendition of "That's All Right." From then on, the audience of more than 100 was all his. They snapped photos, sang along and danced in their seats.

In reality, Elvis was a middle-aged crooner from Pasadena, but in the jewel-studded white-and-gold pants suit with the signature scarf draped casually around his neck, he was the reincarnation of the King, who died 27 years ago. He simulated guitar playing, but the voice, the deep splits and swiveling hips were all real.

"Don't Be Cruel," he sang to Libby Fuss, 80.

"You couldn't be," she replied.

Fuss, who had seen Connelly's show last month in Taneytown, had to see it again.

"I got the first kiss then," she said. "I got a pink scarf today."

Her friend Dottie Hess said, "Keep shaking the scarf so we can all smell it."

Connelly, who is frequently asked but never tells the name of the scent, strutted through the audience, tossing out cologne-drenched scarves, Hawaiian leis and tender kisses.

"I am an Elvis fan from way back," Audrey Cramblitt, 65. "This guy gives a wonderful impersonation."

Paul Garver, the senior center manager whose office is decorated with Elvis photos and memorabilia, said he had scheduled a luau luncheon last week to coincide with the show.

`Blue Hawaii'

"We figured this Elvis would be a perfect fit," he said. "We can be like a stop on his Hawaiian tour. He will have to sing `Blue Hawaii.'"

Connelly danced on tabletops and chairs and pulled several women onto the floor. Lillian Broccolino, 74, abandoned her cane, wrapped her arms around the rocker's waist and followed.

"Just hold me, honey, and we'll be fine," Connelly said.

Broccolino, still a member of an Elvis fan club, said, "I loved my dance."

The crowd shouted, "Go, girl!" as Beulah Belt, at 94 the center's oldest patron, twirled slowly with Connelly and then gave him a kiss. Connie Kosakowski, 79, didn't wait for an invitation. At the first hint of "Blue Suede Shoes," she marched right up to the singer and launched into an energetic twist all around him.

"I hope he knows some of these ladies have pacemakers," said Charlene Fischer, a program coordinator at the center. "I saw the real Elvis in Vegas, but he didn't come off the stage and interact with the audience. I think this show today is more exciting."

Frances Snyder, 76, of Westminster, had spent the morning in the emergency room with an irregular heartbeat. She left in time to join the show.

"He cured me," she said, singing along and moving her feet to "Shake, Rattle and Roll." "Man, that was good." She left clutching a keepsake scarf.

Roy Mills, 80, of Silver Run danced so hard that the staff had to quickly refill his oxygen tank.

"I was really up for dancing today," he said.

Pat Lichtfuss, 65, brought her 9-year-old granddaughter to the concert.

"Elvis will always be popular," she said. "He will be with us for many generations."

Maddie Lichtfuss, the youngest fan in the crowd, has seen a few Elvis movies and a friend's Elvis record collection. She moved to the front row after the first song.

"I like his hair, but definitely not his clothes," she said. "They were too glossy."

Patsy Annis, 62, of Westminster was raised on country music but appreciates rock 'n' roll, especially during dance lessons at the center.

"Elvis' music is more appealing now and rap makes it seem so calm," she said.

Not all fans

A few seniors were immune to Elvis' allure. Just down the hall from the thunderous crowd, a group of men watched a baseball game on TV, and four women played mah-jongg.

"Elvis? He's dead, and I didn't like him when he was living," said Elissa Streaker, 63. "I was a Pat Boone fan myself. Mah-jongg is better than Elvis any day."

Most present would disagree.

"I love Elvis' music," said Regina Foreman, 72, who remembered watching the rocker on TV when he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. "You can't take that voice away. I grew up with it."

Patty Whitson, the center's community services supervisor, said word of mouth from Taneytown told her she would have a hit on her hands. After she and other center staff members danced in a line behind the performer, she said the show was worth his $350 fee.

"The ladies just went wild," Whitson said. "This socialization is so important." After a rousing finale of "Dixie," Elvis-style, and a standing ovation, a crowd of admirers circled Connelly. He signed autographs, posed for pictures and dispensed a few more kisses and scarves. When the show travels to the Mount Airy Senior Center next week, several of Connelly's new fans said they would be there to see him.

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