Johnny Crawford Dance Orchestra

The former Mousketeer (1955), son of the Rifleman (1958-63) and Adam to Victoria Principal's Eve in "The Naked Ape" (1973), Johnny Crawford has now forged a retro image as a 1930s-style crooner and bandleader, doing it very well. Decked out in tuxedo, tails and top hat, the baton-wielding Crawford struts and sways, fronting an 11-piece society orchestra, playing authentic arrangements and featuring such period instrumentation as the horn-mounted violin of Cary Belling and the strumming, rhythm acoustic guitar work of John Reynolds, who also doubles as a whistler. Crawford's onstage demeanor takes on aspects of performance art. Never stepping out of character, his song introductions and asides to the audience are spoken as if everyone were attending the club back in 1937. And his richly timbred crooning is reminiscent of such '30s song stylists as Dick Powell, Russ Columbo and early Bing Crosby. Crawford's voice is showcased especially well on the Ray Noble version of the English ballad, "Midnight With the Stars and You," Gershwin's "Shall We Dance" (from the Fred Astaire film) and the Paul Whiteman rendition of "Happy Feet," which features Belling re-creating Joe Venuti's hot violin solo.

With:
Band: Johnny Crawford, John Reynolds, Jim Grafalo, Randy Woltz, Cary Belling, Chuck Hughes, Willie Murillo & Kerry MacKillop, Geoff Nudell, Albert Alva, Jim Youngstrom. Reviewed Aug. 5, 1997 (Tuesdays only); closes Dec. 2.

The orchestra itself swings freely while treating every arrangement with utmost respect, and on the shuffle swing standard “Truckin’,” Crawford demonstrates the proper dance technique with aplomb.

As a fitting capper to the set, Crawford lets the orchestra loose on Archie Bleyer’s 1931 arrangement of W.C. Handy’s 1914 anthem, “St Louis Blues,” performed by musicians who were mostly born after 1960, danced to by an audience predominantly born after 1970. It all works together just fine.

Johnny Crawford Dance Orchestra

Hollywood Athletic Club; 400 capacity; $10

Production: Presented by Heidi Richman and the Hollywood Athletic Club

Cast: Band: Johnny Crawford, John Reynolds, Jim Grafalo, Randy Woltz, Cary Belling, Chuck Hughes, Willie Murillo & Kerry MacKillop, Geoff Nudell, Albert Alva, Jim Youngstrom. Reviewed Aug. 5, 1997 (Tuesdays only); closes Dec. 2.

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