It has been said the Avalon Sleeveens have the ability to captivate an audience, and take people on a trip back in time.
The group, which consists of 20 members ages 11 to 70 from the Trinity Bay area, entertains several times a year, taking on the identities of famous singers like Dolly Parton, Dean Martin, Kitty Wells and many other stars who rose to fame in the 1950s and 60s. Although they don’t limit themselves to any specific decade.
Members may only be lip-syncing and mimicking the motions of playing instruments, but since forming in 2010, they have come a long way.
“There are still some people who think they’re singing,” member Linda Halfyard told The Compass March 18 at her home in Dildo.
The reason, she explains, is the performers are matched up to an artist they resemble in physical size and facial features. And they put their heart and soul into every performance.
“They are not just lip-syncing,” Halfyard continued. “They are acting the parts, getting into character.”
Keeping busy between sets
And with a name like Andy Williams — famous singer and television show host from the same timeline as the performances — another member of the Sleeveens takes on numerous roles himself.
“There are times after we do the (opening number), I have to run backstage and change quickly because I’m also in the first performance,” Williams said.
He also interacts with the audience when he can, which has been a big hit with concertgoers.
As the MC, it is Halfyard’s job to keep the audience entertained during frequent wardrobe changes.
“I tell jokes to fill the gaps,” Halfyard explained.
The jokes became so popular, the group created a joke book and sold some 900 copies to date. They are working on a second edition.
Profits from any sales and performances are in aid of multiple charities.
Concert revenue has gone to organizations and causes such as the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, local school breakfast programs, asthma research and Parkinson’s — only a few on a large list.
“We thought it was better to help out many charities than just the one,” Williams explained.
To date, some $76,000 has been raised and donated to many causes, none too big or too small.
A new cause has recently been brought to the attention of the group.
A dinner theatre in Kelligrews has been in discussion for some time, and Halfyard hopes it will get off the ground soon.
“We are hoping to work with the Kelligrews Legion to raise money for equipment for soldiers with (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder),” she explained.
Details are not yet available on the event.
Compromise sometimes necessary
The group is close, like a family. And just like in a family, there have varied opinions.
Often, members bring songs they are interested in performing to the group, Halfyard said. And sometimes, they have to compromise.
“Majority rules,” Williams added. “If they (suggest a song), we’ll look at it and listen to it. If it’s too slow, we’ll ask if there’s a faster song by the same artist.”
The performance is usually a good mix of upbeat songs and slower tunes. Each song is strategically placed so the energy of the audience doesn’t get lost in the sombre sound of two ballads back-to-back.
“It’s a good balance,” Williams said.
But that hasn’t been a problem, since every member demonstrates vitality and dedication to their acts.
“We have six decades of people,” Williams continued. “Everyone of them has the same amount of energy.”
The group has sold out every venue it has ever played, including the 379-seat Sheila NaGeira Theatre in Carbonear last year.
“It was our biggest show,” Williams said.
The show was so successful, the group will be returning April 12 to help raise money for the Carbonear General Hospital dialysis unit.
There have been numerous changes over the past few years to the concerts, with more performers and different characters being added to the mix.
With the addition of children to the group, the performance now has a touch of Motown. One of the four children has transformed himself into a young Michael Jackson from the Jackson 5.
And another performer has taken on the role of a young Brenda Lee.
Always a favourite, the group will finish the concert with Rita MacNeil’s hit, Working Man.
“Prepare to shed some tears,” Halfyard said.
Group members have also set up a Facebook group — Avalon Sleeveens Inc. — for those interested in knowing more about them and the causes they support.