PHOTO: Mike Leckrone directs the
On the heels of a wave of athletic successes for University of Wisconsin-Madison teams, the atmosphere was charged for a show by the Wisconsin Varsity Band, the sit-down, concert version of the fabled Wisconsin Marching Band. It’s hard to say the atmosphere was any more charged than any of the band’s previous 16 annual visits to
“Can you hear the trombones okay, lady?” director/showman Mike Leckrone asked as the band took its place Sunday. That’s Mike Leckrone’s standard line because EVERYBODY can hear the trombones, all 30 of them, blazing away in the front row. Contained in a concert hall, the band – 148 players for this occasion – is something of a weapon. Instead of wall of sound, HALL OF SOUND is the catchphrase. In a stadium, the music flies off into air. In a hall, it flies into your head.
The Varsity Band puts on quite a show. Players burst upon the stage from the center aisles, strutting high all the way, and then making a quick spin to turn to their row of seats on stage. From entrance to taking a seat, the whole maneuver is choreographed. At ordinary concerts, musicians stroll to their places. The
During the 95-minute performance, anniversaries popped up as a theme – 50 years for The Beatles, 50 years for James Bond movies, 25 years for “The Phantom of the Opera,” 40 years for the Mike Leckrone-led Varsity Band. The show was built around the anniversaries, plus the expected numbers from the band’s trademark “Fifth Quarter” following games.
- “Pinball Wizard”
- “Beer Barrel Polka,” with some players dancing in the aisles with kids from the audience
- “Hey Song,” with Mike Leckrone prompting the quick standing, shouting, plus swaying
- Medley of hits by rock ‘n’ roll divas, including “Locomotion,” “Chapel of Love,” “Leader of the Pack,” and, with four people from the audience picked to do the percussion on stage, “It’s in His Kiss”
- Medley of one-hit wonders, including “Play Some Funky Music,” “Banana Boat Song,” “Short People” (with an audience member directing) and “King Tut,” including the band singing on one time through
- Medley of Beatles songs, including “She Was Just 17,” “When I’m 64” and “Yesterday”
- “Caravan,” a Duke Ellington big band number featuring drummer Tommy Johnson.
- Medley of James Bond movie tunes, including “Goldfinger,” “Live and Let Die” and “For Your Eyes Only”
- “The Chicken Dance,” including a “new world record” run-through in 23 second flat
- Medley from “The Phantom of the Opera,” including “Think of Me,” “Masquerade,” “The Music of the Night” and “The Phantom of the Opera”
- “Fifth Quarter” tunes, including “When You Say
Mike Leckrone is a colorful showman. He dresses the part, with his outfit for Sunday something that Liberace would appreciate – white shoes and slacks, silky red coat with sparkly do-dads in a flashy pattern in the middle of the back and sparklies around the fringes and on the lapels. With the spotlights, Mike Leckrone didn’t have to light anything with LED lights. He just shone as if he were
The section for “The Phantom of the Opera” was done up in a special way. One of the trumpet players dressed in a black suit, hat and cap, put on the Phantom mask and played key passages from different points in the hall, including a maintenance stairway. He was like the story’s Phantom slinking around the Paris Opera House.
The event, as usual, was very ON. It had plenty of kick. Plenty of spice. It was interesting to experience the
Some past editions of this show included live projected images from within the band. That was not the case this year.
While the event is a fundraiser for UW scholarships, it is not an alumni-only affair – though there was plenty of
The show included abundant laughs. There was the usual back and forth kidding between the tuba section and Mike Leckrone. First, Mike Leckrone kidded that he was once asked if he had one day left to live how would he spend it? With the tuba section. Why? “Because it would seem longer.” Tuba section response, 13 voices in unison: What’s the difference between Mike Leckrone and a 2-year-old baby? “One wears diapers and cries, and one is 2 years old.”
The band was fresh from the UW men’s basketball team’s pulse-pumping climb up the ladder to the Final Four, until
THE VENUE: Cofrin Family Hall is one of three performance spaces within the
THE PEOPLE: The name Cofrin relates in great degree to A.E. Cofrin, founder of Fort Howard Paper Co., and his son, Dr. David A. Cofrin, who was instrumental in building the
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