Fireside's 'Solid Gold 60's' reflects music of era

By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

January 30, 2014

WAUKESHA - After seeing “Sizzlin ‘60s” last January, I wondered how The Fireside Theatre could ever top that show, but “Solid Gold 60’s” rose to the occasion.

Except for some repetition in the narrative text by that smooth host Dan Embree, the array of songs was brand-new, which just underlines the fact of the variety and richness of the music created in that decade. Six out of the eight vocalists were new also; Bianca Denis and Mathew Schwartz, the only repeaters.

Again, the inimitable Steve Watts and his cadre of fantastic musicians, including Dave Wall, Nick Moran, Claude Cailliet, Jim Doherty, Joe Gorman, Curt Hanrahan, and John Hibler, provided the big band sound, and the bevy of talented vocalists did the honors of delivering over 50 tunes in various configurations.

From the moment that Schwartz opened with “Oh, What a Night” by the Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, we sensed that we were in for an electric melodic treat.

Of course, The Beatles had to be included in the mix, along with Bobby Vinton, Louis Armstrong, The Beach Boys, the Supremes and The Dixie Cups in the opening set. Derek Basthemer, who was a very positive contributor in the Christmas show, did a great rendering of Vinton’s “There I’ve Said It Again.” His is a voice to remember.

The talented Embree ties all the pieces together with his allusions to some of the historic events that characterized this era. Music often reflects the spirit of the times, and that was certainly true in the ‘60s when change was in the air and everything was being questioned, from the validity of the war in Vietnam to sexual practices to civil rights and the role of women. Embree can also deliver a tune with class, which he proved with his memorable “Ringo,” written by Bonanza’s Lorne Greene.

A little humor was injected into the mix via references to the show “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.” Several brave members of the audience got involved in “The Limbo Rock,” which was also quite amusing. I always admire those who are willing to participate.  

In the British segment, songs from The Dave Clark Five, Herman’s Hermits, The Foundations, Lulu and the Moody Blues were some of the offerings.   

“Glad All Over” was well executed by Schwartz, and Basthemer did a nice job with “Nights in White Satin.” Shannon Lee Draper has the perfect sweet voice for “To Sir with Love.” Her hair sometimes hides her beautiful face, however.  

The Rolling Stones have to be included in any show about the ‘60s, and Steve Watts did the honors of soloing on “Ruby Tuesday” and “Get Off of My Cloud.” He later almost did himself in when he belted out “Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf. When that man steps up, the audience goes wild.  

In the turbulent ‘60s segment, Eric Lewis blew us away with his soulful “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” and Denis gave us a very resonant “People Got to Be Free.”  

Act Two featured California groups, including The Mamas and the Papas, Burt Bacharach, Jefferson Airplane, and soul music, represented by Marvin Gaye, James Brown and Etta James. Some standouts in this section included “Monday, Monday,” “The Look of Love,” “How Sweet It Is,” nicely delivered by Albert Jennings, “I Feel Good,” one of Eric Lewis’ best, and the classic Etta James hit, “At Last,” beautifully performed by Denis.  

The final section was devoted to one-hit wonders. Sometimes, a composer writes one song that makes the charts and then disappears into oblivion. Brittney Morello’s “I’m Into Something Good” was her best solo, and Ashley Joyce Bush’s “Harper Valley P.T.A.” brought that number back with spunk.  

Again, what a musical era and what a splendid nostalgic trip to go on twice.   

Ed Flesch and Mary Ehlinger did the directing, and Doug Reed the choreography.   

Costumes by Robert Sharon, lighting by Jason Fassl and settings by Rick Rasmussen also added to the ambience.