That's Condo-tainment!

The stars of South Florida's condo circuit may not be the most youthful performers, but oy can they sing

So I circle around the back of the theater and search for an open door. The first I try turns about to be a strangely located shower. Behind the next door are three guys in Sha Na Na-like outfits smoking cigarettes. As I find out later, these are the Riffs, a doo-wop group that is on the bill tonight. One of the Riffs leads me to Robert Lee, the man in charge of condo shows for Big Beat Productions and the organizer of tonight's marathon "Showcase of Stars."

Lee plants me in a folding chair near the front of the 640-seat, sold-out theater just as "Ric and Vic," the first of eight acts this evening, are introduced. Ric enters singing, "Shalom, shalom." As he sings he dives into the audience, walking the aisles with his cordless mic, doling out roses to the ladies.

He pounces on an unsuspecting woman named Juanita. "Do you know the difference between Kellogg's Corn Flakes and sex?" Ric booms at her, whispering conspiratorially that she should answer in the negative. "Nooooo? You don't know the difference between Kellogg's Corn Flakes and sex? Are you absolutely sure?"

Connie Stevens (hint: She was married to Eddie Fisher) recently finished a two-week run on the Condo Circuit
Connie Stevens (hint: She was married to Eddie Fisher) recently finished a two-week run on the Condo Circuit

A pregnant pause.

"Can I come to your house for breakfast tomorrow?"

Big, big guffaws.

Not one to lose the momentum from a good joke, Ric singles out another audience member, Irving, to serve as his foil. Except this time he wants to know if Irving understands the difference between Canadians and canoes. The punch line? "Canoes tip."

Ric closes with a ribald joke involving Liberace, heaven, and cockatoos. The audience chortles with delight despite themselves.

Vic takes over on stage. She has long blond hair and wears a shimmering floor-length evening gown. Vic plays the regal lady to Ric's buffoonish male. She performs a short set culled from what might as well be dubbed "The Condo Circuit's Greatest Hits." Gershwin's "Summertime" is heard for the first (but not last) time tonight, prompting grunts of approval from the audience. As is "Don't Cry For Me Argentina," which I'll learn is apparently required listening any time five or more people over the age of 65 gather at a South Florida condominium.

Ric then makes one more appearance, introduced this time as Luciano Pavarotti. He wobbles on stage, rounder and wider than before and with a fake black beard. In an operatic bass voice, Ric/Pavarotti delivers an aria that is a fusion of Italian and Yiddish. He follows it up with a story about the last time he was scheduled to play Miami but had to cancel because the black folks (or as Ric prefers, "schvartzes") were rioting in the streets.

Before introducing the next performer, the emcee offers a joke. "We have 112 more acts coming up," he says. "You'll be here until seven in the morning." The joke resonates with a shade too much truth.

The sea of gray hair at Huntington Pointe this evening looks like your typical condominium audience. But many of those present are the power brokers of the Condo Circuit: entertainment buyers. These are the people responsible for deciding what acts get booked into what condominiums. Many of them are residents who volunteer on entertainment committees, but the largest condominiums also have paid staff members to line up gigs. Talent agents have been known to slip these entertainment buyers money on the side in order to ensure loyalty. As one talent agent puts it, "an extra 50 bucks to take their friends out to an early-bird special."

All of the acts performing tonight are working for free. Some have paid their own travel expenses from as far away as Boston or New York in hopes of lining up future bookings. Over the next three hours, two different performers will don mask and cape in imitation of the Phantom of the Opera, three will sing songs by Gershwin, and there will be jokes about black Jews, Alabama Jews, and gay Jews. It's the Condo Circuit equivalent of the all-you-can-eat buffet.

It's also the kind of show that could land a performer a dozen lucrative jobs. If, for example, Claire Eaton, the entertainment buyer for Sunrise Lakes, Phase III, which has 6000 residents and a 1000-seat concert hall, finds Vicky Daniels' version of "Summertime" more suitable than Valerie Marino's, it could mean a prime gig down the road.

Robert Lee says that he'll line up 50 to 75 dates in the next month for tonight's performers. As is the norm on the Condo Circuit, the gigs will mostly be for two years down the line. "They're booked up all the way through 2001," Lee says. "To me it's ridiculous." Many performers have a 60-day cancellation clause written into their contracts just in case something better kicks up. "If they get three weeks in Vegas, they're gonna say forget about some condominium in South Florida," Lee says.

Judy Borne enters singing, "Hello, hello, what a wonderful word!" She is a heavy woman with a small round face and wears a glittering silver shirt with black pants. (Glitter of some sort is apparently a required accouterment for all female performers on the Condo Circuit.) Borne's shtick is heavy on another condo staple: audience participation. She immediately gets the crowd giggling by instructing them to turn to their neighbors and say, "Boy, do you look sexy tonight!"

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