the loud bassoon concert scene

Roger Whittaker @ Star Plaza Theatre, Merrillville, IN, USA
2 October 1998

I was able to fulfill some sort of wish recently by seeing the great Roger Whittaker in performance, and then topped that wish by actually meeting the man in the flesh afterward. Now that's a memorable night in my world. Accompanied by the always personable OLE, whose patience throughout the show was admirable, I set out for the ashcan metropolis of Merrillville, Indiana, home of the Star Plaza Theatre, assumedly Roger Whittaker's unofficial Midwest headquarters.

Roger blows through town at least once a year, and I hate to say I think the Star Plaza is the only place that will book him at this point. I've bypassed many opportunities to see the Roger Whittaker Christmas show, knowing that even I have a schmaltz limit.

But this was the time when destiny called, and so we endured a pitifully busy rush-hour traffic ride down there, and basked in the glory of Roger Whittaker.

I had been joking that we'd probably be five minutes late and miss "New World in the Morning" (essentially the sole reason I love Roger Whittaker, aside from the fact that he looks exactly like my Dad), and of course, sure enough, the show started PRECISELY on time, and he did indeed open with "New World in the Morning" … the band played the intro and Roger walked onstage taking the mike just before his vocal started.

The version was very good, did not disappoint at all. I was glad that the band was not too cheesy, as I have seen on some Roger Whittaker live videos and CD's. (Insert joke about extensive underground circuit of Roger Whittaker bootleg traders.) He played acoustic guitar and fronted a quartet (electric guitar, bass, drums, and keys) of young guys who looked sort of embarrassed to be there. They were dead-on tight, though, and even spiced up some favorites (and made stuff like "Sixteen Tons" endurable).

We had fourth-row seats (bought the day of the show, by the way), and felt mighty conspicuous being fresh-faced twenty-somethings among the Congregation of Old. There were several points where we both felt we might be turned into a source of Roger's hammy fun, as he kept looking at us, but fortunately that didn't happen (humiliation by Albita was enough for me).

Roger stuck to the tried-and-true, passing off jokes that even the 80-year-olds must know are on bumper stickers and refrigerator magnets. The man knows his audience, that's for sure. He pandered to just about everyone possible, throwing in all manner of empty nostalgia in his endless account of his "musical safari."

But all told, it was a very enjoyable show, and he certainly didn't leave us wanting more. Value, that's what it's all about.

The second set wore a bit thin (OLE in particular was ready to hit someone) with LONG monologues on kids and marriage (Bob Saget would've rejected this stuff as being too tame for "America's Funniest Home Videos") and special guest Kirsten Campbell, who was even given a solo spot during which she pathetically belted out "I Dreamed a Dream" from "Les Mis."

Things were certainly not helped by the choices of "Jambalaya on the Bayou" and (shudder) "Blueberry Hill." To his credit, Roger played several new songs that had the trademark Whittaker edge, although it was a bit much after awhile.

The crowd, which was about 2/3 capacity, had an average age of 60 (brought down from 75 by the presence of OLE and myself) and responded with wild enthusiasm at the show's close, even though they had responded quite perfunctorily throughout the concert.

In fact, there was something a tad hollow about the standing ovation at the end, almost as though the audience thought you have to do that for any show that costs you more than $25 to see.

But I was glad to join in cheering a man I consider to be one of the greats. We hung around afterward and met him, and I told him about LMP's daring version of "New World," about which he seemed mildly interested, then sort of bored.

He signed my program, which now holds a prime place among my valued possessions. Quite an evening, many a dream fulfilled, and everyone's Grannies were still in bed by eleven.

Now, in the spirit of the Internet thirst for set lists, is Roger Whittaker's:

First set (black shirt with gold trim):
New World in the Morning
The Good Old E.A.R. & H
The Skye Boat Song
(pseudo-African folk song - didn't recognize)
(may have been called "The Song of Shimone"
Dirty Old Town
To the Other Side
Should've Had Dogs
Rocky Top
Sixteen Tons
Wind Beneath My Wings
Born Free
Second set (white tux jacket):
I Will Always Love You
Monologue: marriage and kids
Rains in the Heat of the Night
When Irish Eyes are Smiling
A Perfect Day *
I Dreamed a Dream +
Still *
Jambalaya on the Bayou *
I Don't Believe in If Anymore
Mexican Whistler
Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head
If I Were a Rich Man
The Last Farewell
Make War No More (second time ever played)
Durham Town
Blueberry Hill *

(* performed with Kirsten Campbell)
(+ performed by Kirsten Campbell solo)

Review by Christian Boil