Frankie Avalon was frisky, funny, funky and a little greasy Saturday night in the Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center.
The one-time teen idol of the 1950s is now 75 but still a consummate performer. He can sing a song, tell a joke, make folksy conversation with the fans and thoroughly entertain an audience.
And for the fans who grew up with him from “American Bandstand” to “Beach Blanket Bingo” to “Grease” to the concert stage — Frankie is family.
“I enjoy people, I think that’s the key,” Avalon said backstage after his first concert ended Saturday. “You’ve got to like people. If you don’t like people, then find another job.”
Avalon praised The Villages.
“It’s an amazing place,” he said backstage. “To be here is wonderful. People here are so friendly and have a great attitude. It’s terrific.”
You can see an exclusive backstage interview with Frankie Avalon on the Villages-News.com Facebook page at:
This was a concert awash in nostalgia and seemed like a family gathering for the man Villages DJ Al Brady introduced as “America’s oldest living teenager.”
Avalon played a total of four sold-out concerts. He sang the songs that echo across the decades and for his fans, tie the past to the present: “Venus,” “Bobby Sox to Stockings,” “Just Ask Your Heart,” “Ginger Bread,” and, of course, “Beauty School Dropout.”
Villagers just can’t seem to get enough of the guy with big hair, youthful charm and zesty personality.
“I grew up listening to all those records and watching all those beach movies,” said Villager Jean Boone, who attended the show with her husband, David. “He’s been a big part of my life.
“I had to come to see him. I saw all those beach movies with Frankie and Annette (Funicello). I feel like I know both of them. Annette is gone but Frankie is still here, and I want to see him.”
“Frankie is part of a generation that started rock and roll,” David Boone said. “We may be older but we’re still here. Frankie doesn’t look that much older.”
Avalon possesses a Dorian Gray quality. Age hasn’t slowed him down and he looks remarkably handsome.
“He’s still got the look,” said Patsy Woodruff. “Those old songs and movies still hold up and we still love him.”
Early on, Frankie was in a frisky mood, dancing on stage and leading a sing-a-long to the old ‘50s’ novelty song, “Witch Doctor.” Avalon was like a conductor leading the audience singing those wacky lyrics: “ Ooo, eee, ooo ah ah ting tang / Walla walla, bing bang.”
“They don’t write songs like that anymore,” Avalon said after it was over. Then he added: “I could never sing rap. I could never remember all the words.”
The outstanding back-up band included members of Rocky and the Rollers. Gerry “Rocky” Seader and his band put on an inspired performance to open the concert. Lead singer Al Morse was decked out in a white tux as he strolled through the audience singing “The Duke of Earl.”
Rocky went wild on the drums, pounding out an infectious beat on a couple of big band numbers: “Sing Sing Sing” and “In the Mood.” There was also a doo-wop medley.
Avalon’s regular band includes his son, Frankie, on drums. Edan Everly, son of the Don Everly of the Everly Brothers, played scorching lead guitar.
One of the musical highpoints of the show came when Frankie Avalon Sr. combined with Edan in an Everly Brothers medley: “Bye Bye Love,” “Dream” and “Wake Up Little Susie.” The generation-bending duet sparkled and also rocked.
Avalon, wearing a gray sports coat with white trim, had fun going back to his own sugary pop numbers such as “Ginger Bread” and “Dee-Dee Dinah.” “I’m happy to be here to sing those songs,” he said. “At my age, I’m happy to be anywhere.”
Then he talked about his family, including eight children, four girls and four boys. “My oldest is 52 and my youngest is 42. One wife (Kathryn). For those of you who are counting, yes that’s 8 kids in 10 years.
Avalon joked about his famous hair and that steel wool pompadour that is still going strong. “Yes, no matter what Howard Stern says, this is my real hair,” Frankie said. “Some people say it looks like a Chia Pet, but I don’t mind. It’s fine, as long as I don’t get it wet in the rain.”
A film clip from the movie “Grease” was played showing the beginning of “Beauty School Dropout.” Up on the screen, DiDi Conn, as Frenchy, was chewing bubble-gum when Frankie as the Teen Angel dropped out of the sky.
Then the film stopped and Avalon was at center stage singing the song.
About an hour into the concert, Avalon left the stage and started walking through the audience. People took pictures, asked for autographs and gave him hugs. One boisterous fan hugged Frankie and looked like she wanted to sing with him. “Hey lady,” Frankie said, “I do a solo act.”
This was all part of Avalon’s charm offensive. He relates so well to his fans. He doesn’t seem like a rock star but a regular guy. Maybe that’s the genius of Frankie Avalon.
But let’s not forget the music. When he sang “Venus,” one of his best recordings and a No. 1 record, Avalon showed he can sell a song and touch the heart.
Towards the end of the show, Avalon showed a film clip of his family and also pictures of the performers he worked with who are no longer alive.
Up on a big screen were larger than life photos of Elvis, Rick Nelson, Bobby Darin and Bill Haley. Avalon honored them each with such songs as “Jailhouse Rock,” “Hello Mary Lou,” “Mack the Knife” and “Rock Around the Clock.”
Maybe such reminiscing is the essence of Frankie Avalon’s performance. He not only sings about remembering what we’ve lost but also the value of what we had and its meaning today. “Music has a special way with people,” he said. “You listen to an old song and you can remember who you were with and how you felt about them and what was happening at that time of your life.”
It was that way for Marge Prestifilippo, who lives near The Villages.
“I never thought I would get a chance to see Frankie again,” she said. “I saw him when I was a teenager and touched his arm. I lived in a small town and there wasn’t much to do. I would watch ‘American Bandstand’ every day and I loved it when they played Frankie’s records. He was my heartthrob.
“Seeing him in this concert was wonderful. I brought a copy of his first album and he autographed it for me. It’s a wonderful feeling. It took me back to being a teenager and those wonderful memories.”
Frankie Avalon has touched many such lives over the past six decades with his music, movies and live performances. Maybe that’s why, in a place like The Villages — where personal history has a way of reflecting where we’ve been and where we’re going – Avalon means so much to so many.
“You just had the feeling,” Jean Boone said, “Frankie was always there.”