DOWNEY - Lovers of 50s and 60s music should be in for a musical treat on Sunday, May 19 when The Alley Cats, a professional a capella doo-wop group that had its start on the campus of Cal State Fullerton in 1987, perform at the Downey Theatre. The 3 p.m. show, promising to deliver "high-energy, family-style oldies doo-wop fun filled with great harmonies, comedy, engaging stories, and audience participation," is being presented by the West Coast Performing Arts.
The group's repertoire includes such oldies favorites as the following (with the original artists in parentheses): "Blue Moon" (The Marcels), "Come Go With Me" (The Del Vikings), "Don't Be Cruel" (Elvis Presley), "In the Still Of The Night" (The Five Satins), "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" (Frankie Lyman & The Teenagers) and more.
According to Armando Fonseca, co-founder of the group, The Alley Cats have achieved world-wide fame, attributable to its innumerable live performances through the years at performing arts centers, corporate events, fairs, festivals, trade shows, and schools all over (USA, Canada, Mexico), as well as appearances on TV, radio shows, and even for the Clinton administration in the White House in June of 2000.
At one time the opening act for Jay Leno in his Las Vegas shows, they have also landed aboard the aircraft carriers, USS Stennis and USS Constitution, as part of welcome home USO shows for the crew. The group launched their musical journey in the late 1980s as a featured act in Disneyland's "Blast to the Past," which was a salute to the 1950s.
According to the promoter West Coast Performing Group's Mark Curran, their "long-standing relationship with Disney also took them to New York City, where they were featured during the world premiere of Disney's animated film, Hercules."
Fonseca sings second tenor while co-founder Royce Reynolds provides the bass vocals. Since then, other members have joined the group. Today their number is 20, some supplying first tenor, others baritone, etc.
Starting the group was Fonseca's original idea while attending Fullerton College. He says he has been singing since his kindergarten pajama choir days in Norwalk where he grew up.
Raised in Whittier, Reynolds is said to have started his singing career when he was five and met Fonseca in college as he was taking his first voice class; in addition to his affiliation with The Alley Cats, he has enjoyed other TV/movie gigs during his 26 years with the group.
All of the original (early) members are still performing with the group, with most of the members logging more than ten years each in the group.
Fonseca describes doo-wop vs. barbershop quartet singing this way: "The style is much more free and we use nonsense lyrics and syllables whereas barbershop has a 'rule' that songs follow the 'circle of 5ths' and that singers sing homophonically, meaning all singers sing the lyrics for the majority of the song. Barbershop also has a set vowel pronunciation for lyrics so they get the same sound from each singer."
With their present number, Fonseca says The Alley Cats can perform multiple shows on the same day. "We book the cast members based on availability and show location," he says. "To most audiences we are new, and they would not know an original member from a new one. We have regulars but we're all fan-friendly, and that means a lot to people to know us. Many of our fans actually look forward to meeting new guys!"
Fonseca allowed us a closer look at how they handle their bookings. According to him, "I own the company with Royce Reynolds. All our performers are independent contractors. I handle travel and tours, Royce deals with tech and cast members. 'President' is a title we flop back and forth as required by corporate by-laws. This year I am secretary and CFO. This changes yearly.
"Royce and I work together to make all key decisions but try to stay out of each other's way with bookings and smaller decisions so we can be efficient and not waste time micro-managing. I trust him and he trusts me."
This is how he assesses the industry and their particular doo-wop market: "We are booked all year. In spring we spend a great deal of time in Arizona and Texas, fall is touring and local schools. In the winter we have a Christmas show that tours and plays locally, summer at fairs and festivals. We had 24 days on the road in April and three trips in May. June can be slow."
What of the future? Full of optimism, Fonseca said: "Well, the largest portion of the population are the baby boomers, and this is their music. So I see us doing what we have been doing for a while to come, traveling, singing, laughing and making new friends all over the world. We will continue our work in schools as well as creating new young fans."
Fonseca says the group is currently working on a trip to Great Britain and Brazil.
Tickets to see The Alley Cats are $39 general admission; $38 for students, seniors and military; and $36 for kids ages 12 and younger.
Tickets can be purchased online at downeytheatre.com or by calling (562) 861-8211.