Mining the origin of pop music at the Indianapolis Symphony 

Doo Wop show at the ISO, reviewed

click to enlarge SUBMITTED FROM ISO
  • submitted from ISO

A program — by five very talented vocalists and their pianist/music director — was made all the more delightful by sharing it with Dominic Nolfi's parents and cousins a row behind my seat. They flew in from California to share the premier of ISO Pops and the Doo Wop Project.

California native Dominic Nolfi is the designated leader of Doo Wop, this newly minted 'pack,' including Russell Fischer (the top line), Dominic Scaglione Jr., Charl Brown and Dwayne Cooper ("The Bass"),  John Michael Dias and Doo Wop Project music supervisor Sonny Paladino.

Introducing themselves and the music to follow, each vocalist revealed a passion for the tenets of doo wop, starting as simple street corner music and growing to influence "the sounds of Smokey Robinson, the Temptations and the Four Seasons, all the way to Michael Jackson, Jason Mraz and Amy Winehouse."

We learned "The Doo Wop Project was born on the third floor of the August Wilson Theatre on 52nd Street in New York City, as the cast members of the musical Jersey Boys wondered "What was on the radio before the Four Seasons dominated the charts? How did Doo Wop evolve into the Pop music we grew up listening to?"

click to enlarge SUBMITTED FROM ISO
  • submitted from ISO

Between long runs in Jersey Boys and Motown: the Musical, these performers created a bond and embarked on a mission 'to begin at the beginning [1930s, '40s], tracing the evolution from ...the sound of five guys singing tight harmonies on a street corner, to the biggest hits on the radio today.'

The distinctive sound of tight harmony vocals emerged as a mainstream genre in the 1950s rock 'n' roll and R&B era. Following a decade of top groups doo wop flowed into beat, soul, vocal surf, and gained resurgence at the turn of the 21st century with a cappella and tight harmony vocal groups on college campuses. Butler's "Out of the Dawg House" has been a city-wide favorite since 2003. IU's now legendary "Straight No Chaser" originated in 1996.

The ISO Sept. 15-16 program, with outstanding orchestral arrangements, included Doo Wop standards: "I Only Have Eyes For You," "Remember Then," "Morse Code of Love," "Little Bitty Pretty One," "That's My Desire," "Ooh, Baby Baby," "Track of My Tears," "Tears of A Clown," "I'm Yours," "Come and Go With Me," "Sherry, Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man," "The Angels Listened In," "Pretty Little Angel Eyes."

Re-imagining standards brought us into more of a listen-up mode than a sit-back-and-recall-the-original feel. A changeup of "I've got You Under My Skin" 'as Frank and Frankie might have sung as a duet' earned an ovation, as did the lush orchestral arrangement of "I Can't Take My Eyes Off of You." "The Maroon 5 Medley" provided a clever play on the lyrics.

The standout arrangement of gifted layerings of "Impossible Dream" with 5-part harmony, a combo and full orchestra. The theme of brotherhood continued into the heartwarming rendition of Gloria and then Dwayne Cooper dazzled with a full-tilt dance routine to Speedo. Recreating the legendary Bojangles he leapt into the audience and back on stage to a full-leg split and instant jump up. Wow.

The evening closed with a sond that recalled The Four Seasons with "Oh, What a Night," revealing our feelings in the full-house audience. "It ended much too soon," underscored conductor Jack Everly's comments when I asked, What makes this moment so timely for ISO Pops to bring forward a 'Doo Wop' program?

"[It is] musical entertainment that brings joy to our hearts and a smile to our face [and] is timeless," said Everly. "Aside from pure nostalgia, there is a desire for sunnier, simpler times. This style of singing takes us there, no matter what the song."


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Rita Kohn

Rita Kohn

Rita Kohn has been covering craft beer and the arts for NUVO for two decades. She’s the author of True Brew: A Guide to Craft Beer in Indiana.

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