80s 'prom' or 40s Big Band: Either way, those decades were king - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Voices

80s 'prom' or 40s Big Band: Either way, those decades were king

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Mike Sakal’s column runs on Fridays. Contact him at (480) 898-6533 or msakal@evtrib.com, or write to Mike Sakal, East Valley Tribune, 1620 W. Fountainhead Pkwy., Suite 219, Tempe, AZ 85282

Posted: Friday, March 16, 2012 9:03 am | Updated: 1:06 pm, Mon Mar 19, 2012.

King and queen of the prom will soon be crowned in Chandler — the 80s prom, that is, with poofy dresses, tacky tuxedoes and all.

And on another dance floor in east Mesa, a new set of 1940s-era Big Band swing kings undoubtedly will emerge.

This new “royalty” may emerge from different decades — one period in time I was a part of, the other I would’ve liked to have been a part of. But both of those great eras are being relived and reveled in these East Valley communities beginning this weekend and continuing all next week.

“A Night in the 1940s” dance kicks off the tour of the decades Saturday inside the Arizona Wing of Commemorative Air Force Museum at Mesa’s Falcon Field.

And for the first time on the west coast, Ken Davenport’s Theatrical Enterprises of New York is putting on the renowned interactive play “The Awesome 80s Prom” at the Chandler Center for the Arts. The production begins at 8 p.m. on Monday and will be held each night at 8 through Saturday, March 24.

The events certainly are for those who enjoy pop culture or have a passion for patriotism.

Whether you’re a cool kid from the 80s yearning to groove again to the Huey Lewis hit “Back in Time” — all while mustering the courage to ask the captain of the football team or the head cheerleader for a dance — or one who croons to the 1940s era Big Band songs such as “Sentimental Journey,” both events should be packed with people taking Lewis’ words to heart.

Many attendees will be dressed to the nines in the “proper attire” from those eras.

Attending the Awesome 80s Prom isn’t the typical stage production; it’s more like being at a high school dance. In its sixth year, the production which will feature 15 East Valley actors, including Arizona State University cheerleaders Ashley Lewis and Nikki DiGiorgio, and four actors from New York. It is not a seated event, so the action takes place inside on the dance floor, at the bar or even in the restrooms, akin to the days you went to school (minus the bar, of course).

The night in the 40s will feature Sonoran Swing, an East Valley-based 22-piece orchestra featuring two vocalists.

Michelle Mac Lellan, the coordinator of the Awesome 80s prom event who works at the Chandler Center for the Arts — a 1988 graduate herself of Phoenix Central High — said she has been shopping at thrift stores all week. She found a polka-dotted-bow head band and wide belts to match the style of her era.

“I’ve been enjoying this a little bit too much,” Mac Lellan admitted. “It’s truly one of a kind dance. We’ll have a time tunnel at the entrance that people have to walk through on their way in. It’s like you’re just going to a tacky 1980s prom.”

Tacky? Maybe. Fun? Definitely.

At my senior prom in 1985, my black tux jacket had tails and I wore a top hat, although not when I danced to “Footloose” and watched my friends David Libengood and Mike Hines put on a breakdancing exhibition to Five Minutes of Funk by Whodini. We were all class.

I’m very proud to say my 32-inch waist jeans — the same size I wore in high school — still fit. I just might show up wearing them and my black REO Speedwagon “Wheels are Turnin’” concert T-shirt that seems to have shrunk since I bought it in January, 1985.Although the crowd at the Awesome 80s Prom promises to be large and will get caught up in voting for a prom queen and king, “A Night in the 40s” is a long-running tradition at Falcon Field. It’s been a signature event to raise money for the Arizona Wing of the Commemorative Air Force Museum for more than 25 years. That dance not only attracts about 1,200 people from around the United States, but from Europe as well. It will feature a swing dance contest, said Jack Kelly, chairman of that dance’s committee.

Among the guests who will be there include 95-year-old Mesa resident Herman Laabs and his wife, Virginia — longtime attendees of the event. During World War II, Herman piloted C-47’s in the European Campaign and dropped paratroopers on the beaches of Normandy during the D-Day Invasion of June 6, 1944.

‘It’s what we like,” he said of the event. “We think it’s one of the greatest things going.”

A special guest of honor will be Army veteran Michael Proscia, an East Valley resident, who recently returned home after being injured in Iraq.

The crowd at the 40s dance has mostly consisted of World War II veterans over the years, but in the last few, more Korean and Vietnam War veterans have been coming as well as younger people, Kelly said.

“We’re starting to lose a lot of people from that World War II group, but the crowd still is enormous,” Kelly said. “During the night, we’ll have some of the old planes outside so people can see them and the museum will have its plane, ‘Sentimental Journey’ outside. We’ll also recognize all of the veterans during the dance.”

“We want to honor them,” Kelly added.

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