The announcer’s disembodied voice fills the packed Manhattan nightclub: “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. The DuMont Television Network proudly presents Spotlight on Music, brought to you each week by the family of Galaxy products—the beauty products four out of five Hollywood starlets prefer. And now—the Taffetas!”
The spotlight falls on four squeaky-clean, dairy-fresh, poodle-cut Midwestern Lennonists (as in the Sisters). Swishing their wide taffeta skirts, they swing into the opening bars of the Crew Cuts’ “Sh-Boom.” For the next two hours the Taffetas are in full warble, paying harmonied homage to the ’50s. If you liked Ike, you’ll love these girls.
In between such hits as Brenda Lee’s “I’m Sorry” and Patti Page’s “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?” the Taffetas—Kaye, Cheryl, Donna and Peggy—talk about life back home in Muncie, Ind., and dispense advice about dating and sweater-and-skirt combinations. Cheryl describes her duties as president of the Mario Lanza fan club. Donna says she likes to ride in the front seat of a Chevrolet with the top down.
But of course, this isn’t the ’50s, and the Taffetas aren’t really a ’50s singing group. They’re the creation of Rick Lewis, the show’s musical director. “I loved TV shows like Leave It to Beaver and My Little Margie, and they have the same essence as ’50s music,” says Lewis, whose revue has been playing to enthusiastic crowds. “Everything seemed so simple and innocent—it really was a neat era.”
Lewis studied old record jackets to get the costumes and hairdos right. He culled slang from letters in ’50s fan magazines. The point, says Lewis, is not to caricature the ’50s but to treat them with “integrity and respect.” The four singers—who live in New York City, not Muncie—strive to stay in character without appearing camp. And so, when a fan writes to ask, “Who is your favorite woman in history?” Kaye answers, without a hint of irony, “Mamie Eisenhower.” Peggy votes for “Mother.” But Donna disagrees: “It’s a tie,” she says, “between Mother and Connie Francis.”