By Jenny Neyman
Dust off your bell-bottoms, trim up those sideburns and pull out the platform shoes as the Kenai Performers ring in the new year with a trip back to the 1970s.
“I miss the ’70s, and the outrageous styles and the sparkle. It was so glitzy but seemed very carefree,” said Sally Cassano, organizer of the New Year’s Eve gala event.
OK, yes, there was polyester. And the Farrah Fawcett feather cut, obnoxiously busy flower prints and — brace yourself — the leisure suit.
These might be some of the loudest examples to come to mind when recalling the culture of the 1970s, but dismissing the entire decade based on a few cringe-worthy misadventures in fashion and fabric would be doing a disservice to the many contributions of the era that still stand the tests of taste and time. Particularly in music.
The 1970s saw the rise of pop rock music, such as The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, The Carpenters, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Chicago and The Eagles. Rhythm and blues musicians, along with Stevie Wonder and The Jackson 5, hit their stride. Disco was spawned, which, while certainly dated nowadays, still is widely known, from the Bee Gees to the Village People, Donna Summer, ABBA and KC and the Sunshine Band.
Meanwhile, hard rock took an even steelier turn with Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Judas Preist, KISS, AC/DC and Black Sabbath progressing toward metal. Punk rose to shake its fist at the establishment, with the Ramones, Blondie, Patti Smith, Sex Pistols and The Clash leading the fray. Yet there still was room for the mellower folk sounds of the 1960s to retain wide popularity, such as Simon and Garfunkel and Roberta Flack.
“The ’70s had a huge variety of music and talent, and what I like about the ’70s is this was just before things got really computerized, when people were performing live. It was the last decade, really, where they really had to be able to do it on their own, without technology tweaking their voices. They had to be able to sing, they had
to be able to play those instruments. It seems like the last decade of real music that could be done live like that,” Cassano said.
Anyone attending the event will get a refresher of that musical variety, as the evening will include a live music review of iconic ’70s performers, including Karen Carpenter, Jim Morrison, Stevie Nicks, Sonny and Cher, Simon and Garfunkel, Janis Joplin, Gloria Gaynor, Roberta Flack and Sid Vicious.
Some of the singers responded to a call for auditions for the show, while Cassano recruited others. All are embracing their persona in full tone, costume, hair and mannerisms.
“The performers we have are fantastic. I’m just amazed when we send out a message as Kenai
Performers that we need performers and we have people show up and it is just jaw-dropping to hear the talent that is in this small community,” she said. “And the people who are in this show aren’t necessarily people who have been cast in show after show after show with Kenai Performers. We’ve got some new blood in there and we’re tapping into some new talents — some of them have done stage work but they’ve never sang lead (in a show), for instance. They’ve just floored me.”
Yvette Tappana is channeling her inner mellow crooner to perform “Killing Me Softly” and “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” as Roberta Flack. She’s quite familiar with the music, and the era in general, though that decade wasn’t personally her favorite.
But the music is well worth remembering. Tappana was already familiar with the songs but she’s been watching videos of Flack’s performances to perfect her impersonation.
“Thank God for YouTube,” she said. “She’s actually very mellow. In both videos I’ve seen for both songs she was at the piano, so most of what stands out about her is the emotion she puts into the song. She does it with her words rather than her actions, which makes it kind of hard if you’re trying to impersonate someone to do it just with their voice.”
Alyeska Krull has a little more movement to work with in her performance as Stevie Nicks, the fringed and flamboyant singer from Fleetwood Mac. Though being a teenager, Krull is at a bit of a disadvantage in firsthand familiarity with the era. However, just as all good things come to an end, in today’s culture, all good things also come back for an encore.
“I am familiar with her music. I first heard it on (the TV show) ‘Glee.’ They did a whole episode on the album ‘Rumors,’ which got me hooked on it,” Krull said. “I think the music is really easy to relate to and has great rhythm and harmony.”
One performer not needing any refresher on his target performer is Marc Berezin, who will portray Art Garfunkel from the folk duet Simon and Garfunkel. Berezin said he could sing the words to anything in the entire catalog of Simon and Garfunkel, particularly as he counts Paul Simon as one of, if not the, best songwriters of the 20th century.
“A good song will last forever. We’re still playing Mozart and singing the ‘Requiem.’ I still love Duke Ellington and songs from the ’30s and ’40s, I could sing that stuff anytime. And, of course, show tunes of the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, many of them are just timeless,” he said.
As for the ’70s as a cultural whole, it was a mixed bag for Berezin. He’s still devoted to the music of the early 1970s.
“I think the first half was really very much a continuation of the ’60s, as far as qualities of the music. Then two things happened in the late ’70s. One is that we moved to Alaska in ’75 and immediately became isolated from pop culture. The second thing is disco came into fashion, which made me not upset that I was isolated from pop culture, not being a big fan of disco,” he said.
For those who are big fans of disco, or are prepared to be for at least one night, Heather Cline will be performing as Gloria Gaynor, in all her big, brassy belting of “I Will Survive.” And for anyone with more rock tendencies, Sid Vicious, of the Sex Pistols, and Jim Morrison will be performing.
“I am excited about this, I just love working with Kenai Performers. It always amazes me, no matter what production is coming out, the voices that come out of the community. I just sit there going, ‘Wow,’ I’m in awe. And I feel lucky to be asked to participate,” Tappana said.
The event will be held at the Kenai Mall across the Kenai Spur Highway from the Boys and Girls Club, from 8 p.m. Dec. 31 to 1 a.m. Jan. 1. There will be food from Kenai Catering, beer and wine and a champagne toast for those over 21, raffles of vintage 1970s posters and décor, and items donated by local businesses. It is for ages 16 and above, with those under 21 asked to come with a parent or guardian. Attendees are asked to come in costume and there will be ’70s dancing and karaoke in which to participate, with prizes for the best costume and best song.
Berezin said that the Kenai Performers did a swing-era New Year’s Eve gala a few years back and it was a big hit, so the organization decided to hold another as a fundraiser to generate capital to renovate its theater space.
And also, a little more selfishly, to have a fun, unique way to ring in the new year.
“When we did it the last time it was a huge success and was received very positively. Every year after that we’ve been asked, ‘Are you going to have a NYE bash this year?’ We have lots of opportunities to be entertained in the theater here, but there’s so little live entertainment other than rock music at a bar on New Year’s Eve, and so here is a safe environment where we can play music and have live entertainment there to have fun and help the audience have fun,” Berezin said.
Tickets are $80 per person, available at River City Books in Soldotna, Curtain Call Consignment Boutique in the First Avenue Theater in Kenai — open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and online at www.kenaiperformers.org. A table also will be set up to sell tickets at the Peninsula Center Mall on Dec. 23. For more information, contact Cassano at 394-8104 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.