The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Best of Branson

December 9, 2011

Dave Woods: Lennon Sisters celebrate 55 years with new show

JOPLIN, Mo. — The Lennon Sisters insist they were just “typical teenagers” growing up in the 1950s and ’60s. To me, coming of age each week in front of millions of television viewers as featured performers on “The Lawrence Welk Show” is far from typical.

 “We grew up in the days of live television,” Kathy Lennon said of Welk’s weekly champagne music variety show. “He was a taskmaster who taught us how to be professional. Fifty-five years later, we do the same professional things he taught us.”

I talked to the Lennons after their show recently and was super impressed with their down-to-earth attitude, respect for their loyal fans -- count me, my grandmother and niece among them -- and the excitement they have about headlining their own show. I was taken aback when Kathy called “Mr. Welk” a “taskmaster,” but she meant it in a respectful way.

The girls all agreed that they owe a great debt to Welk and his early TV tutelage. Welk gave the girl group its big break and they are loyal to this day.

“In those days, there were no cue cards and you had to know your stuff,” Kathy said. “You had to be on time and on your mark. He taught us that.”

Kathy called the years they spent learning from Welk the best education they could have ever had.

The Lennon Sisters Christmas Show at Andy Williams Moon River Theatre runs until Saturday, but the trio will return next season to the same stage and afternoon timeslot with a new show, more memorable songs and many of the nostalgic stories that have charmed audiences for more than a half century. The group is also the subject of a new PBS documentary -- check your local listings -- detailing the sister act on stage and screen.

Dianna (Dee Dee) and Peggy Lennon -- members of the original act -- have retired from the show. Kathy, Janet and Mimi Lennon continue the tradition. Three Lennon brothers and a nephew appear during the Christmas show at Moon River and Janet’s granddaughters steal the spotlight during a couple of numbers. Add to the mix a singing Lennon sister-in-law and there are a dozen Lennons performing during any given week in Branson.

The girls laugh when describing the many covered wagons it took to move the 30-member musical family to Branson from Venice Beach, Calif., many years ago when they were hired to perform. After 17 years at Welk, they now call Moon River home.

“It’s amazing that it happened so fast,” Janet said of the recent move to Moon River. “Here we are in Branson in our 18th season on this wonderful stage with Andy Williams. The theater is one of the most beautiful in Branson and we are honored to be on it and excited about our show.”

Williams and the Lennons have a 50-year relationship. They toured with Williams, played Caesar’s Palace with him and were regular guests on his TV variety show.

 “It’s so much fun,” Mimi, the junior Lennon sister, said. “I’ve been 13 years with Kathy and Janet.

“The three us are all very different people. We talk about the show every day and every thing comes together like glue. It’s wonderful to work with family.”

Even after working together for more than five decades, the sisters still get along.

“We get to catch up in the dressing rooms,” Mimi said, laughing. “It’s really special.”

Talking about the show with their loyal fans, they said, gives them new ideas for the show and keeps them in touch with what their fans want.

“We listen to the people after the show,” Kathy said. “We always go sign autographs and take pictures and listen to them. We listen to what they love.”

Many ideas they get from their fans will make it into next seasons show, Kathy said.

“It’s about costume and making people happy,” Kathy said. “There are so many people who get so emotional when they talk about watching us with their parents or grandparents.  It’s great that someone can relate to our songs and that we bring them warm hearts. That’s what we will be doing next year.”

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