By Lisa K. Berton
In a day and age when lip-syncing in concert is still prevalent, performances by music veterans is a welcome break. Bowzer's Rock 'n' Roll Party is just that, a celebration with hitmakers. With Freddy "Boom Boom" Cannon, The Orlons, Johnny Contardo, touring band Rocky and the Rollers and his backup singers, the Stingrays, Bowzer orchestrated a live concert of oldies radio.
Bowzer, whose actual name is Jon Bauman, is best known as the flexing greaser frontman from Sha Na Na. The group covered both doo-wop and 1950s rock 'n' roll hits on their variety show. Before their television show (1977-1981), the band released almost a dozen cover albums.
Sha Na Na appears in the movie "Grease" as Johnny Casino and the Gamblers. That's Bowzer singing and talking through "Born to Hand Jive." And although you can hear him, you can't see his face because the frame cuts him off at the shoulders.
Jon "Bowzer" Bauman is partly responsible for the Truth in Music Act. The Act requires at least one original member of a group/band. Hence, when One Direction performs 30 years from now, either Harry, Niall, Louis, Zayn or Liam will be there.
Bowzer's Rock 'n' Roll Party lineup changes from concert to concert. He often brings the oldies hitmakers to venues in theme parks, casinos, and on cruise ships. The show I caught took place at the Music Box Theater in Hersheypark.
The evening began with a doo-wop version of "Blue Moon" complete with Bowzer's recognizable arm movements. Sha Na Na fans continue to swoon over former lead singer, Johnny Contardo, the Boston native with falsetto capabilities. Contardo's memorable "Grease" song is "Those Magic Changes," which he sang during his set, with Bowzer on the keyboard.
Maybe not as well known as the Righteous Brothers rendition is Vito and the Salutations' 1963 doo-wop version of "Unchained Melody." Contardo and Bowzer, a bass, balanced each other out on the doo-wop song. The former bandmates covered "Lovers Never Say Goodbye" as well.
Contardo seemed genuinely happy onstage because he put a lot of emotion into his performance. He gladly came out to meet long-time fans, take photos, and sign autographs after the concert.
Hitting the stage next was The Orlons singing "Don't Hang Up." Stephen Caldwell is the last surviving member of the group at just 76. Joining Caldwell were Jean Brickley Maddox, Coco Muhammad, and Lillian Mitchell. Funny enough, Jean pre-dates Stephen in a way. She was a member of Little Audrey and the Teenettes but left before Stephen joined the female singers who renamed themselves The Orlons.
The oldies hits continued with "Let the Good Times Roll," "Soldier Boy," and "The Wah-Watusi." The latter lead to the Watusi dance craze of the 1960s. Audience members put their best foot forward and danced in the aisles. In fact, throughout the evening excited concert-goers clapped, sang, swayed, and wiggled.
Freddy "Boom Boom" Cannon took control of the stage and the audience, literally. Best known for hits like "Tallahassee Lassie" and "Way Down Yonder In New Orleans," Cannon delivered with vigor. His dance moves and tapping toes are the same as they ever were.
A true fan himself of the origins of rock 'n' roll, Cannon honored Little Richard by singing "Rollover Beethoven." Additionally, Cannon pleased the crowd with oldies hits "Action," the theme from Dick Clark's television show, "Where the Action Is" and "Palisades Park."
Because I let my GPS point me to the nearest restaurants, I wound up in the same place as most of the performers. I briefly talked to Freddy on his way out; he has a sense of humor!
Most noteworthy were moments when Bowzer himself entertained us with stories. When you've been in showbiz for nearly 50 years, there are tales to tell. He's proud of his education at The Julliard School. Bauman, out of his Bowzer character played "Claire de Lune" and "Bumble Bee Boogie" on a keyboard.
Prior to bringing the curtain down, the place lit up with "Born to Hand Jive." Bowzer and Contardo ended the spectacular night as they did on Sha Na Na's television show, with "Goodnight Sweetheart." Grease for peace.
Bowzer came out after the show to sell T-shirts and photos although he graciously signed anything. He also posed for photos and chatted with those who waited, myself included. If you have a chance to see Bowzer's Rock 'n' Roll Party, take advantage of it, daddy-O!
For more information on oldies cruises, visit Rocky's Rockin' Cruises