By Francisco Alvarado
By Trevor Bach
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
Stevens is certainly not the only performer to walk out of Century Village East flush with cash. Lainie Kazan, Hal Linden, and Mamie Van Doren have all played for capacity crowds this season. "You have a captive audience here," says Amadeo "Trinchi" Trinchitella, the politically powerful condo commando who also serves as chairman of the recreation committee at Century Village East. "The people are gonna come see the shows no matter who's playing, because they want to go out for the night." The $3 show is subsidized by the condominium's entertainment budget. Fees for star-quality entertainers can run as high as $12,000.
Precisely at 8 p.m., a tuxedoed emcee takes the stage and announces that an upcoming concert has been cancelled and that help is available for residents in filling out their income tax returns. "And the one that always gets the groans:" he adds, "As of now, all movie tickets will cost 75 cents." The audience obliges with a collective groan.
Opening the show is comedian Steve Solomon, who is portly, balding, and wears the requisite black tux. From the outset he plays the room like an Israeli rabbi. His routine is laced with Yiddish words like schmuck and kvetch, and on more than one occasion Solomon announces that he's been "running around like a meshuganah." He mentions growing up in Sheepshead Bay and summering in the Catskills, both of which set off knowledgeable murmurs from the crowd. The jokes are heavily focused on old people with health problems, old people having sex, and old people with health problems having sex.
A Solomon joke: A little Jewish man named Milton goes to the doctor. The doctor tells him that he has herpes. Milton goes home and informs his wife, who looks up herpes in the dictionary. "Milton, it's nothing to worry about," she says. "It's a disease of the Gentiles." This elicits paroxysms of laughter.
"Is that too dirty for you?" Solomon queries, as he does throughout the routine.
"No!" is the enthusiastic reply.
You get the feeling that the audience would have been happy to leave it at this: 45 minutes of comedy for $3. But then out comes Connie.
She enters singing, "I love music, sweet sweet music" -- and the mood immediately sours. The easy laughter and whispered endorsements in the crowd are replaced by silence. Stevens wears a maroon dress that looks to be velour and a grin that looks to be permanently frozen on her face. Glitter, of course, sparkles from her eyebrows. She is supported by a four-piece band and one backup singer. The only word that comes to mind in describing her voice is loud.
"Hi everybody!" Connie calls out, but the response is decidedly muted. The audience seems a bit shell-shocked by the sudden and overwhelming emergence of spirit. "C'mon everybody!" Connie shouts. She claps her hands and bounces around the stage, but only a handful of people join in.
I'm the only clapper in my row.
"This is the first time I ever performed on this circuit, and I'm having a great time," she says. "Who thought they were gonna see Connie Francis? Connie Chung?" There are a few embarrassed giggles, but nobody owns up to being unfamiliar with Connie Stevens.
Then Connie breaks into an elevator-rock medley of Billy Ocean's "When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going," and Billy Joel's "You're Only Human (Second Wind)." She wanders the audience Oprah-style with a tote bag, not-too-successfully trying to sing as she bribes the audience with gifts. First out of the bag is Dexatrim. "It helps, I swear it does," Connie testifies. Most of the people in this audience need diet pills like they need a pogo stick. Connie doles out makeup, pantyhose, Grecian Formula. And then the kickers: Ex-Lax and Poli-Grip (although she has trouble finding any takers on the latter, finally forcing the denture adhesive on some unwitting man).
"You think y'all are checking me out. I'm checking you out," Connie tells the audience when the medley ends. "I don't get out very often, so it's such a pleasure to sing for you."
The guy next to me is asleep.
Connie fairs better when she retreats to more-traditional material. A version of Duke Ellington's "I Got It Bad (and That Ain't Good)" is well received, as is a Sinatra song. Connie even ventures into the audience again (this time sans Ex-Lax), and gets a fair number of people to sing along on the pop standard "Close to You" ("Why do birds suddenly appear/Every time you are near? "). This has the added bonus of making Connie's voice sound downright angelic in comparison to the amateurs in the audience.
The woman in front of me is snoring.
Stevens' fate could be worse. The Condo Circuit is not the easiest crowd to win over, and audience members don't hesitate to vent their displeasure. One entertainment buyer recalls scheduling Pat McCormick, at one time a prominent comedy writer and TV talk-show regular, who appeared on Gun Shy and The Don Rickles Show. Unbeknownst to the talent booker, McCormick had recently suffered a stroke. He appeared on stage with an assistant and read jokes from a book because he couldn't remember the punch lines.