Many years ago, my father and his brother, my uncle, were two young immigrant men, living in Depression-era luxury with two sisters and their parents in San Francisco.
The Canadian duo had little luck with young ladies in the neighborhood, and little money for any sort of serious attempt at dating anyway, so most of their time was spent in vaudeville theaters, movies and other live entertainments that punctuated the town like commas in a legal document.
But even after 20 years' time, a war, a mortgage, marriage and two kids, my father could remember the names of most of both the stars and bit part actors we saw in the old movies that ran late at night on TV.
When he and my uncle got together they would try to outdo each other with tales of vaudeville shows they'd seen in that golden age that ended with the Golden Gate International Exposition -- the world's fair in San Francisco, which ran in 1939 and '40. It brought the two young men to Treasure Island fairly often.
But all that ended with the beginning of World War II and the draft of my dad and uncle into the Army, and the subsequent journey to Germany and much more of Europe, where they spent a miserable three or four years. The fair, it turned out, was the only bright spot between the Depression and the war.
Oh, but the stories, and all those tales they could tell an eager young lad who saw little in the way of live entertainment -- television had already woven its way into the fabric of the family, plays were expensive and vaudeville had pretty much ceased to exist.
But I was eager to feel some tiny bit of the joy my dad and uncle felt when they were just slightly older than I was at the time, sitting there in the darkness, sampling entertainment as if it were fine wine and rich desserts. My dad seemed to savor it, and lusted to see it, because other variety performers who were part of his part of his bloodstream, I think.
Once I was old enough to get into the clubs that served booze and had enough cash in my bell-bottoms to really enjoy myself, I started to seek out my dad's idols, many of whom were still touring. I saw Bing Crosby in his last American performance (at Concord Pavilion). I saw Henny Youngman's final performance, at the Kung Pao Kosher Comedy dinner, a short time before he died. Now, more often than not, the performers my dad enjoyed are remembered as tribute bands, as are some of the stars of my youth.
But some of the real deal is still on the road -- I saw what remained of The Lovin' Spoonful at Livermore's Bankhead Theater, which, because I live in the Tri-Valley, is my go-to spot for local and touring theater and a variety of music and comedy acts, including The New Christy Minstrels, who were to play the Bankhead Monday, and Asleep at the Wheel, which will be there Aug. 20. There are lots of the old faves of one kind or another at the Bankhead, as well as the other venues around this part of the East Bay, with similar booking policies.
That's also probably why I got into writing about entertainment instead of following my dad and uncle into the glitz-and-glamour world of being an accountant. I did a bit of this and that, I acted, I spent a lot of time acting in community theater, and finally about 25 or 30 years ago, I actually got paid to watch entertainment -- first television and movies, then theater and later what I call, for lack of a better name, brown liquor entertainment.
That has become my home, and, surprisingly, about as close to what my dad and his brother enjoyed so much.
At first, when I saw some of the old acts, they seem pleased when I told them my father was a big fan, they seemed to enjoy it. Now, not so much. It sounds a little insulting, I suppose, hearing a white-haired (pretty much) guy telling people my dad was a fan. But, go out and see them anyway -- they're coming to a theater near you. Soon.
"SING A SONG OF SONDHEIM," a tribute to the songs of Stephen Sondheim by San Francisco's Society Cabaret, at 2 p.m. July 27 brings its show to Pleasanton's Firehouse Arts Center, 4444 Railroad Ave.
Tickets, at $22-$27, may be reserved at 925-931-4848. The Firehouse, always intimate, will be even more close up, when the seating will be changed to cabaret-style seating.
The show will feature music from Sondheim shows including, "Follies," "A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum," "Merrily We Roll Along," "West Side Story," "Company," "Sweeney Todd," "A Little Night Music," and "Into The Woods."
Songs featured also include Sondheim hits, including "Comedy Tonight," "Somewhere," "Send in the Clowns," "Tonight," "One Hand, One Heart," and many others.
Contact Pat Craig at email@example.com.