Arts Around Town: 50th anniversary sets stage for music's King Henry & The Showmen
They've played the songs people want to hear, with a repertoire ranging from Glenn Miller to the Black-eyed Peas. They've recorded 40 albums of various music genres, their latest "Party Songs" debuting in September. They've built a reputation for being the Pocono's legendary show group. The music and comedy of these "Showmen" have reigned in and around the Lehigh Valley for five decades, headed by Wilson Borough loyal royal, "King Henry," alias Henry Casella.
"We've been together for as long as The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys," quipped Casella, a former special education teacher and versatile musician who plays keyboard, drums, guitar, banjo, mandolin and trombone. "We attribute our success to being in demand. We play what the people want to hear. Too many bands play what they like, and not what their audiences want to hear." The group plays a lot of classic rock and party songs.
This year, King Henry & The Showmen mark 50 years of playing together with a special anniversary comedy special, Oct. 16-18, at Penn's Peak in Jim Thorpe. But you needn't wait that long to experience the fun. The group is ready to heat the stage of the band shell and bring fans to their feet on Saturday night from 7:30 to 10:30, at the 49th annual Das Awkscht Fescht in Macungie Memorial Park. The Fescht runs this weekend and is billed as one of the country’s largest antique and classic car shows.
On Wednesday, Aug. 15, King Henry & The Showmen will open – as they've done for the past 20 years – for Lehigh Valley Hospital's Muhlenberg Summer Festival in Bethlehem. "They say we’re their good luck charm," said Casella, who tells the story of just how his group got its name.
He explained that it originated when former agent, Lou Reda of West Easton, was manager of the group, then known as The Fabulous Showmen, appearing at The Palm Gardens in Alpha, N.J. Casella said that one of the bands to play the venue had “Prince Charles” as part of its name. When Reda booked Casella's band, he stepped it up a notch and said, 'Let’s do King Henry and The Showmen.' The rest is history.
The Showmen include original member Gary (DiPasquale) Dee, (featured vocalist, guitar, banjo) of Easton, John Richetta (drums) of Wilson Borough, Frank Russo (saxophone) of Bethlehem Township, and Rollin Krause (trumpet) of Allentown. Both Casella and Dee write and perform the band’s on-stage comedy routines and spoofs.
Casella said he's thankful to have had a long, successful journey in the entertainment industry since those early days of playing at the Pocono resorts, when he often donned a crown and cape in his kingly role. Mount Airy was the "hottest spot on the East Coast" back then, he added, catering to a middle-aged crowd.
King Henry & The Showmen played Mount Airy until 1985, rubbing shoulders with high-caliber stars of the 60s and 70s, early rock and roll bands and Doo Wop groups. They shared the stage with Harry James, Lionel Hampton, Tony Bennett, Jerry Lewis, Milton Berle, Shirley Jones, Red Buttons, Connie Francis, Jackie Mason, Joan Rivers, Neil Sedaka, Pat Cooper and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, to name some. They also were fortunate to play to packed houses at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and various venues in Atlantic City, including the Tropicana and the Hilton. In 1975, they recorded a double album from their sold-out, New York debut, "Live at Carnegie Hall."
In the mid-90s, Casella ventured into a luncheon show business at Penn's Peak, where King Henry & The Showmen perform in the spring and fall. They also play area fairs and festivals and can be heard at the annual La Festa Italiano in Scranton on Sept. 2. Locally, fans can dance to their tunes at Dimmick Park in Hellertown on Aug. 12. Dance music continues monthly at the Charles Chrin Community Center in Palmer Township and Fearless Fire Company in Allentown.
For further info: kinghenry.biz awkscht.com
Rodgers & Hammerstein's "State Fair" is under way at Pennsylvania Playhouse, Illicks Mill Road, Bethlehem, through Aug. 12. The musical is directed by Mark and Beth Breiner, with music direction by Mark A. Saylor and choreography by Melissa Keiser. Members of the Frake family are played by Mark Breiner (Abel), Phillip Cygan (Wayne), Darah Donaher (Margy) and Joanne Kelhart (Melissa).
For further info: paplayhouse.org
Lehigh Valley chamber musician and teacher Nora Nohraku Suggs joins fellow musician James Nyoraku Schlefer on the shakuhachi, or the traditional bamboo flute of Japan, for a concert titled "Bamboo 2" on Tuesday, Aug. 7, 7:30 p.m., as part of Musikfest's Chamber Music Concert Series at the Old Chapel at Central Moravian Church, Bethlehem. The two will be joined by Deborah Davis on cello, in a program of traditional and contemporary music from around the world and across the centuries.
Suggs, versed in both shakuhachi and Western flute, is the flutist and artistic director of the chamber music ensemble, SATORI. She is on the music faculty at Bethlehem’s Moravian College Music Institute. She was a performer with Two Part Invention, a classical guitar and flute duo.
For further info: nohrakumusic.com fest.org
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