Toys, Shirelles, Drifters and Tokens Rock The House at the Chevalier Theater in Medford

Barbara HarrisAt 4:45, as I walked in to the legendary Chevalier Theater on Forest Street in Medford, a prestigious old hall tucked away next to the U.S. Post Office right outside of Medford square, the legendary Barbara Harris was in high gear with her Toys at soundcheck, a premiere performance to the almost empty room…just for me…I let the videotape roll until a voice boomed out “NO TAPING AT THE CHEVALIER”…the set had just ended and it was exquisite, Harris, Roxanne Euri (of Auntie Roxie fame) and Margaret Ross Williams (of the group The Cookies, famous for having The Beatles cover their hit “Chains” and backing up Neil Sedaka on most of- if not all – of his 1960s hits)…hitting notes that were unbelievable. But the discordant sounds were coming from the house agent, Warren Scott, booking agent of the Channel Club in days gone by. “Are you kidding?” I said to Scott. “Yes” he laughed…my God…he likes to throw a scare every once in awhile.

Going back stage I looked at Ross Williams and said “The Tokens”…she didn’t know I was kidding at first, then got it…and when Harris saw me the three beautiful voices started a chorus of Happy Birthday just for me…it was …chilling! and humbling…all at once.

“A Lover’s Concerto” is a remarkable song. It topped the charts in October of 1965 (although Billboard Magazine denied it the top spot, as it did to Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny”, these legitimate #1 hits in other trade papers reaching only #2 in Billboard) Producers Denny Randell and Sandy Linzer based their composition on Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Minuet in G major” (BWV Anh. 114) from his Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach way back sometime in the 1700s, that glorious Eighteenth century! What The Toys song did, though, was quite amazing…it pushed Motown’s Holland/Dozier/Holland to take The Supremes up to the top of the Billboard charts about two weeks later with “I Hear A Symphony”…Harris telling this writer that “A Lover’s Concerto” was said to be blasting at full volume in the halls of Motown Records…the voice of Barbara Harris inspiring Diana Ross to have a concerto or symphony of her own. Both records are simply amazing Girl Group pop music that sustain to this day…and will keep people happy way, way into the future.

This evening was called “A Night For The Future”…sponsored by the Laborer’s International Union of North America presented by the Friends and Alumni of Medford Vocational Technical High School, with help from Mayor Michael J. McGlynn and State Rep Paul Donato and others.

The show opened with the Ike & Tina Turner – Supremes/4 Tops hit “River Deep, Mountain High”…it was the reinvention of a treasure, all three Toys taking different lines from the classic. Backstage I asked Harris if she based her rendition on Ike & Tina Turner or the Supremes/4 Tops and she surprised me by saying “Darelene Love”. The great Darlene Love did River Deep/Mountain High in her Tony nominated musical Leader of the Pack as well as Love’s biographical Portrait of a Singer. Ken Wiltshire’s bass pounded away at the iconic lines to “River Deep…” with Charlie Thomas and The Drifters music director Jack Columbo stepping in for keyboards, Andrew Mack on drums/vocals and Charlie Rivers on guitar/vocals round out The Toys. A great way to blast off the evening’s entertainment.

Harris and her toys gave the audience exactly what they wanted for an “Oldies Night”…the group didn’t play any of the terrific original music from “Barbara Now”, or even the Top 20 “Attack” which The Toys performed in the movie “It’s A Bikini World”…they gave the packed house a Girl Groups medley from the 50s and 60s consisting of The Chordettes “Mr. Sandman”, The Bobbettes “Mr. Lee”, The Chantels’ “Maybe”, and material from The Marvelettes, The Angels, The Cookies (of course), The Crystals, The Chiffons, The Ronettes, Martha & The Vandellas and The Supremes. What was stunning about the set (and keep in mind I got to see it in soundcheck and during the show) was that the voices were immaculate. “We’re still working on it” Harris told me during an interview after the show. Still working on it? How do you work on perfection?

The trio and their hot band hit it out of the park…the flexibility and dynamics at play are what make The Toys so magical. How many Vegas-type acts do the same material? They just can’t play it with the authority and…authenticity…that these original veterans/pioneers give to these classic songs. What fans crave is a medley of all the songs they themselves performed on…Harris and Ross appearing on numerous other hits (separately, not collectively) for artists such as Diane Renay, Mel Torme’, Eydie Gorme (“Blame It On The Bossa Nova) and others.

I missed the Tokens set as I was downstairs conducting three interviews, and also missed comedian Paul DeAngelo but came back for Shirley Alston Reeves and her Shirelles. “Foolish Little Girl” was as great as when Reeves performed it at the same venue in 2004; she paused to give a little story about the cover of Doris Day’s 1958 hit, “Everybody Loves A Lover”. The Shirelles sent Day their 1963 cover and Shirley says “she sent it back!” The crowd roared in appreciation, later giving Reeves a standing ovation. “Dedicated To The One I Love” and then, Reeves asking if anyone sees Carole King in the lobby, “please tell her we need another hit” as they launched into “(Will You Still Love Me)Tomorrow”. If The Toys presented a tour de force then Shirley Alston Reeves took the tempo down a notch to give a dreamy cascade of pop R & B. Charlie Thomas and his Drifters then came out to give an even different spin on the evening, velvety soul with more
Goffin/King material like “Up On The Roof” as well as “This Magic Moment”, “There Goes My Baby”, “Dance With Me” and many of the other of their 16 Top 40 hits.

Resplendent in white shirts, glaring red pants and black dinner jackets, these fellows backing up the 73 year old Charlie Thomas were the perfect conclusion to over three hours of music and a great night of entertainment at Medford’s classy concert hall.

The Chevalier is underutilized and Mayor Michael McGlynn would be well-advised to bring in a new public access TV station to the community, locate it at the Chevalier, and record these magic moments for posterity as well as for entertainment on the access channels. I videotaped The Toys for Winchester’s WINCAM and other affiliates that air my show, Visual Radio. Maybe we’ll post some of the magic right here on TMR Zoo.