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Around the South Bay

A Big Name From Yugoslavia Wows 'Em at Revived Theater

April 25, 1985|TIM WATERS | This column is by Times staff writer Tim Waters. and

Pick up any pop music chart these days and Bruce Springsteen is probably there, vying for the No. 1 spot with the likes of Madonna, Tom Petty and Michael Jackson.

But to many of the 1,000 spirited people who spent last Saturday evening at San Pedro's historic Warner Grand Theater, the No. 1 spot belongs to that 24-year-old sensation Lepa Brena.


"She's No. 1 in Yugoslavia," said Mary Sujdovick, a 31-year-old San Pedro resident and avid Brena fan. "Everyone here tonight knows who Lepa Brena is.

"I've bought all her records," she said, explaining that she attended a Brena concert in Yugoslavia last year. "She's just one of those people who, if you see her one time, you want to see her again."

"I have only one thing to say," said Violet Segvich, who, along with her husband, Branko, traveled 400 miles from their home in Fremont, Calif., to see Brena perform. "I saw her on television in Yugoslavia last summer and she was wonderful."

Such was the praise lavished on Brena by those who came to see her sing in their native language. Many came early to visit friends and peruse several tables lined with Brena buttons, Brena records, Brena tapes, bumper stickers bearing the words "I Love YU," and brochures pitching discount travel packages to Yugoslavia and other European destinations.

For theater owner Ray Howell, who took over the boarded-up, 54-year-old picture palace last December and pledged to bring back that "movie-going experience of yesteryear" to San Pedro, the crowd was perhaps his largest ever.

The occasion was also a milestone of sorts in Howell's efforts to lure people to the 1,500-seat theater by booking performing groups as well as movies. Brena's appearance in a community where the Yugoslavian population is estimated at more than 20,000 was the perfect kickoff.

"It's a marriage made in heaven," said Howell, the former manager of Mann's Chinese Theater in Hollywood.

For Lepa Brena, who shared the stage with singer Miroslav Ilic and an eight-piece band, the weekend performance marked another kind of milestone--the end of a two-week tour of Canada and the United States, her second in as many years.

Mike Milicevic, the tour producer, said Brena had appeared in 10 cities, including Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver in Canada, as well as New York, Detroit, Chicago and San Diego. San Pedro was her last stop before heading home, he said.

While the 50,000 or so who saw Brena perform in this country and Canada were few in number compared to the crowds she typically draws closer to home--Milicevic said 50,000 turned out see her at a concert in Romania last year--Brena didn't seem to show any signs of disappointment as she performed for a final time.

Bouncing onto the stage in high heels and a silver-sequined miniskirt--one of four she wore during her performance--she immediately drew applause and cheers as she launched into her rollicking repertoire. When she stepped down from the stage on several occasions, she was greeted by hugs, kisses and flashbulbs.

"She's magic," said Milicevic.

"Not bad legs, huh?" whispered an usher as Brena launched into a leg-pumping rendition of a song that Sinisa Vuksic, a San Pedro resident who served as the show's local promoter, said was titled "Oh, Sheiky."

Many of those at the concert were hard-pressed to compare Brena to any American performer. Anna Velickovich, who grew up in the same Yugoslavian town as Brena, Novi Sad, said she might compare the performer to Barbara Mandrell, but she wasn't really sure.

Sujdovick said she might place Brena in the same category as Olivia Newton-John or Linda Ronstadt. Misa Milojevic, 12, who had previously watched Brena on a video cassete his family had rented, said the singer reminded him a little of Bo Derek because of her good looks.

But some refused to make any comparisons. And Brena herself shied away from making any. "Everyone has some specialty," she said in broken English after the performance.

How would Brena describe her music?

"I like to keep it simple," she said. "I like people to come and have fun, and forget their frustrations and worries. My songs are for a good life and for a better future."

A better future may lie in store for the theater. Howell, buoyed by the overall success he has thus far enjoyed, said a resident performing arts group is being formed at the theater.

Before the group debuts, however, the Tamburitzans of Duquesne University will appear. The dance troupe's performance next month is being sponsored by the Yugoslav American Club of San Pedro.

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