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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > TV on DVD Reviews > Tony Orlando and Dawn - The Ultimate Collection

 

Tony Orlando and Dawn

The Ultimate Collection (R2 Home Video-2006)

RETURN TO TV SHOWS ON DVD REVIEWS MENU

Copyright ©2006   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: March 5, 2006.

In the mid-seventies, when every Tom, Dick and Harry was getting their own musical-variety hour, Tony Orlando and Dawn plugged in like nobody else; they actually made it past their initial summer tryout and onto the CBS Fall 1975 schedule, attracting an astounding 50 million viewers every week.

This one-of-a-kind yet cornily mainstream trio chalked up a number of insanely popular vaudeville-type songs (including “Tie a Yellow ‘Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree,” which was the biggest-selling record of 1973).

Although this nightclubby group and their moon-spoon-June tunes could never, ever top the charts today, they were planted firmly in the driver’s seat – quite the spectacle at the time. This rush of fresh faces was not only in the air but on the air; television was finally letting its guard down and acknowledging that persons other than Caucasian existed on this earth. Not to worry, though – Tony Orlando and Dawn won’t bite. They serve up songs that both Grandma and Gidget can love.

Billing himself as a “Greekerican” (half Greek and half Puerto Rican), Orlando will settle for nothing less than being the ultimate showman, with a huge heart, a pound of ham and a Zorba-like lust for life (this is in addition to his feathered hair, tight slacks and platform shoes). What he lacks in talent he makes up for in pure nerve. He strives – we appreciate (a photo of his appearance at The Republican National Convention, doing “The Bump” with First Lady Betty Ford, caused a minor media sensation in 1976).

No one can ever accuse him of phoning it in. In fact, his passion is so overwhelming that, in one unrehearsed instance, he bear-hugs Phyllis Diller so tightly that her wig falls off.

His African-American soul-sister sidekicks, the quiet-but-talented Joyce Vincent-Wilson and the mouthy, funny Telma Hopkins, provide the backup, the sass and the sexy. Not just window dressing, the gals can actually sing, sometimes as just a duet, sometimes whether we want them to or not.  They’re almost always dressed alike, but they have two distinct personalities (collected versus attitudinal). As guest-star Danny Thomas comments about them, “They sure filet that soul.”

The gals also appear in a running sketch called “Lou-Effie and Mo’reen,” in which they give middle-America a taste of what out-of-touch comedy writers think it’s like to live in the ghet-to (“We gotta buy Liquid Plumber by the six pack!”). They also readily provide whatever “street” attitude that the ethnic-but-showbizzy Orlando cannot.

The comedy skits are about as funny as root canal (there are actually jokes about exporting wheat to Russia!). The audience – starved for TV’s new freedom of easy talk about sex, ride like eighth graders on every double-entendre. And the seventies buzzwords that are sure to draw groans from the crowd (Inflation! Pollution! Unemployment!) are only mentioned as buzzwords – never dared explored. The audience is real, but sweetened by deafening canned laughter and applause.

The final ten minutes of each program, however, are what you will need to see. That’s when Orlando gets all unrehearsed and improvisational on you, and he shifts his act off the stage and into the studio audience, singing and dancing with a thrilled, polyestered crowd of middle-class Americans (mostly swooning housewives and clueless businessmen). Woe to the audience member who may not feel “on” as Orlando approaches them: “there are no cop outs here,” Tony warns the crowd.

Watch with reluctant joy as Orlando chats it up with an elderly Jewish couple, celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary (Tony must have performed at a lot of bar mitzvahs – he knows the words to “Hava Nagila!”). If this isn’t feel-good television, nothing is.

The formula is borrowed directly from Sonny and Cher – cheese served as Tang. Like Sonny, Orlando – with a wink to the audience -- is played for the fool (he comes out dressed like a cowboy, then sings “I Shot The Sheriff”; he dresses like a Kung Fu master and sings “Kung Fu Fighting”).  Like Cher to Sonny, Dawn is there to take Orlando down a few pegs (“From the back, [Orlando] looks like Marlo Thomas,” Telma observes.) The New Equality: now, in this brave world of seventies’ prime time, ethnics can be one-dimensional types too!

For the sake of entertainment history, you’ll get a strong lesson in how the once-mighty have fallen. No longer welcome on weekly television, watch the likes of Jackie Gleason, Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, Joey Bishop and Danny Thomas (all in tuxedos) lower themselves into some really bad sketches (“In a world of troubles, this is what we really need,” Orlando muses about his comedy-lovin’ guest stars). You’ll also see Jerry Lewis in rare, funny form.  And Jim Nabors, usually freaking us out by singing in a way that Gomer Pyle never would, gladly appears in a sketch or two.

Bafflement comes in the form of a “salute” to Hee Haw, featuring some guests from that series (watch in stunned amazement as the bumpkins are solicited by prostitutes at Hollywood and Vine! Hey gang, welcome to the Big City – and to the seventies!). Telma comments about the rubes, “It’s nice to see corn that’s not being sent to Russia.”

We are also introduced to the “glamorous” Adrienne Barbeau, and to Alice Cooper, who is announced as an “unbelievable special guest.”

Charming is the appearance of both Ted Knight (singing “Knock Three Times!”) and Georgia Engel (“I know you’re Tony, but which one is Orlando and which one is Dawn?”), as well as “Hammerin’” Hank Aaron, who doesn’t seem to know why he’s there. 

Neil Sedaka, decked out in a seventies outfit that you will have to see to believe, is even more amazed than the audience that he is actually experiencing a comeback. And George Carlin does his monologue about nothing (“Hot Water Heater? Hot water doesn’t need to be heated!” “Occasional irregularity?” “Jumbo Shrimp?”)

However the funniest sketch is not here but on The Carol Burnett Show (a DVD extra), in which Carol, Vicki Lawrence and Harvey Korman play Tony Tallahassee and Dusk, singing, “Wrap Your Jammies Round The Old White Pine.”

If you’re looking for true revelation, you’ll actually find it in frequent-guest-star Freddie Prinze, Sr., the topical, edgy comedian who befriended Orlando because they both seemed to think they looked like each other. In a Tonight Show clip from 1976, you can literally see the widening generational divide of show business: Prinze is 21 and Orlando is 31; Prinze is edgy and unsentimental, while Orlando is just the opposite. Hip, hard-assed attitude versus old-world schmaltz.

The rush of finally being able to bring up ethnic topics for comedy’s sake, especially by ethnics themselves (previously taboo on television) is evident in Prinze’s funny monologue. Describing himself as a Hungarican (Hungarian and Puerto Rican), he says, “My parents met on a bus trying to pick each other’s pockets.” And he could sing and dance too. He rocks out to the Kiki Dee hit, “I’ve Got the Music in Me.”

Sadly, Prinze would be dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound within a year. And the series itself would not last much longer as America and its fickle taste moved on. Trying (lamely) to inject a hip vibe and more sophisticated music (including disco!) into the show, the name is inexplicably changed to The Rainbow Hour, and the magic is not recaptured.

What may be most amazing is how many different ways “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” may be served up, from a styling by Jackie Gleason to a studio audience sing-a-long to a countrified version by Buck Owens and the Buckaroos (in matching leisure suits).

Tony would reappear on the cultural radar again in 1980, when yellow ribbons were utilized during the Iranian hostage crisis. Now he plays to packed houses in Branson, Missouri, perfect for his brand of audience interaction, most of whom remember him from his glory days. The corn is still there, for sure, and not exported to Russia.

Ron Sklar

Copyright ©2006   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: March 5, 2006.