REVIEWED: The Four Lads
DATE: Feb. 14, 2012
VENUE: Broadway Palm Dinner Theater, Fort Myers, Fla.
As the title of their signature song suggests, The Four Lads provided a capacity Valentine’s Day dinner-theater audience with some musical “Moments To Remember.”
Indeed, from the time they opened their performance with a barbershop-quartet-like rendition of “Down By The Riverside” until closing with their memorable 1955 smash hit, they presented a full evening of nostalgic harmony.
The Lads were backed up by the John Hasselback Trio, which opened the show with jazzy instrumental versions of “Girl From Ipanema” and the Duke Ellington classic “Take The A Train.”
One of the best-received numbers was a peppy rendition of the group’s first gold record, which was “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” in 1953. The theater-goers issued extra applause each time bass vocalist Frankie Busseri — who has been with the group since its inception in 1950 — sang the well-known phrase “People just liked it better that way.”
Another big crowd-pleaser was “Cry” — a huge 1952 hit for Johnnie Ray with backup vocals by The Four Lads. As the song wound down, lead tenor Don Farrar concluded the number in the typical pre-rock R&B-type intensity that marked Johnnie Ray’s signature style.
A personal Valentine’s Day touch included audience interaction when — after some humorous banter with a couple who had become engaged that very day — Farrar came off-stage and sang a solo rendition of “My Funny Valentine” at the couple’s tableside.
More audience participation took place regarding the group’s 1954 hit that had the unusual and lengthy title of “Gilly Gilly Ossenfeffer Katzenellen Bogen By The Sea.” The crowd enjoyed attempts at repeating the song’s lyrics that, of course, included the title’s words.
The program included a number of songs written by Frank Loesser and popularized on Broadway, including the group’s big 1956 hit “Standing On The Corner” from the musical “The Most Happy Fella.” Also popular were a string of tunes from “Guys And Dolls” that included “Luck Be A Lady Tonight” and “I’ve Never Been In Love Before.”
The group also paid tribute to legendary composer Irving Berlin with a medley that included samples of such well-known songs as “Blue Skies”, “Always” and “Puttin’ On The Ritz.” A narrative regarding the words inscribed on the Statue Of Liberty was an appropriate lead-in to a stirring rendition of “God Bless America” that brought the audience to its feet.
Despite personnel changes over more than six decades in show business, the modern-day group continues to more than adequately represent The Four Lads’ distinctive style that provides many nostalgic “Moments To Remember.”
The modern-day Four Lads lineup
* DON FARRAR, lead tenor … has been singing since he was a member of a quartet at the University of Kansas in 1956. After singing with jazz groups in Kansas City and Omaha, he was signed to fill an opening with The Four Lads in 1984.
* AARON BRUCE, second tenor … began his career with the Dick Jurgens and Jan Garber orchestras in the Big Band era, and he joined The Four Lads more than three decades ago when original second tenor Bernie Toorish retired.
* ALAN SOKOLOFF, baritone … was a professional group singer in New York since the late ’40s, was a former member of the Ray Charles Singers, and sang backup on many of Perry Como’s recordings. In 1979, he became the replacement for retiring lead tenor Jimmie Arnold, and since 1993, he has been in the baritone position.
* FRANKIE BUSSERI, bass … is one of the group’s founders and the only remaining original member of the group. He began as the baritone, but he moved to the bass part after Connie Codarini, the original bass, retired in 1961. He was inducted into the Group Singers Hall of Fame in 2003.
A brief history of The Four Lads
The group –formed in Toronto, Canada, and consisting of Bernie Toorish (lead tenor), Jim Arnold (second tenor), Frankie Busseri (baritone) and Connie Codorini (bass) — originally sang in area night clubs in 1950.
Later that year, the Lads secured a position at a posh New York dinner club, Le Ruban Bleu. During one of their performances, Mitch Miller saw them, had them signed to Columbia Records and eventually utilized them as backup singers on million-selling Johnnie Ray records such as “Cry” and “The Little White Cloud That Cried.”
Soon thereafter, the group signed its own recording contract and received their first Gold Record for “Istanbul” in 1953. Their continued success story includes other million-sellers “Moments to Remember”, “Standin’ on the Corner”, “No, Not Much” and “Who Needs You.”
Today, the “reconstituted” Four Lads, headed by Busseri, continue to provide “golden memories” and nostalgia to oldies music fans in a wide variety of venues.
Links to Four Lads music and Web site
* To hear “Istanbul” (1953), click here. And to hear a recent live performance, click here.
* To hear “Skokiaan” (1954), click here.
* To hear “Gilly Gilly Ossenfeffer Katzenellen Bogen By The Sea” (1954), click here.
* To hear “Moments To Remember” (1955), click here. And to see a recent live performance, click here.
* To hear “Standing On The Corner” (1956), click here.
* To hear “No Not Much” (1956), click here. And to see a recent video, click here.
* To hear “Who Needs You?” (1957), click here.
* To visit The Four Lads’ Web site, click here.