A Glitzy Finale : Cast of 8,000 Performs in Liberty Fete

July 07, 1986|JOHN J. GOLDMAN and ELIZABETH MEHREN | Times Staff Writers

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Statue of Liberty's centennial weekend ended Sunday with glitz and glitter but also with disappointing crowds at two performances across the Hudson River from Manhattan.

Marching bands and drill teams, Hollywood stars, gymnasts, ice skaters, gospel singers, fiddlers, 200 Elvis Presley imitators--a cast of more than 8,000 from every state--performed at the show business finale at Giants Stadium here.

"We're going to have glitz tonight," show producer David L. Wolper, the Hollywood impresario, boasted before the finale. "We can have some fun."

And for the most part the crowd did. For many, it was a free concert of rock 'n' roll, country and Western and Americana.

"It's fabulous," said Liz Pierce, a New York writer who got her ticket free from a friend. "I love all that kind of precision stuff. It's the Rockettes, about 10 times over."

But empty seats were common at both Giants Stadium and the earlier "Sports Salute" at nearby Brendan Byrne Arena. The 17,000 seats at the Byrne Arena were less than half full. And many of the 55,000 available seats at Giants Stadium, where tickets ranged from $25 to $200, also were empty when the finale began.

Many of those who attended said they had gotten free tickets from their employers, many of whom--as major Liberty Weekend sponsors--received thousands of free tickets.

To fill the large gaps in the stands at Giants Stadium after the show began, officials got on a loudspeaker at Byrne Arena, urging people to attend the Wolper show nearby. A Wolper spokesman said that 7,400 people responded to the request and were admitted to the finale free.

A Huge, Waving Flag

The show business farewell began with hundreds of dancers whirling their red, white and blue capes to form a huge, waving American flag. A line of giant red and gold balloons spelled the word Liberty.

A 20-tier white stage, flanked by waterfalls cascading into 10 fountains, dominated one end of the stadium. Atop the stage was Liberty's seven-point crown. Choruses in blue robes sang from both sides, while horses pranced in formation on the field.

Elizabeth Taylor spoke. Kenny Rogers sang. The Four Tops sang and danced. So did Manhattan Transfer, Patti La Belle and the Pointer Sisters. Liza Minnelli belted out her trademark, "New York, New York." A "Hooray for Hollywood" number was led by Shirley MacLaine, and Gene Kelly oversaw a portrayal of "Singin' in the Rain."

Parade of 1950s Cars

Russell Peters, a 28-year-old New York actor, sat with four friends cheering as the Four Tops crooned "Can't Help Myself" and as gleaming 1950s cars paraded around the stadium.

"Fabulous," Peters said with a laugh. "Looks great. The cars are incredible. Fun, fun, fun."

Peters and his friends had gotten into the stadium on free tickets.

"I think the fireworks were nice but to make four days of it doesn't make any sense," said Leo Flecken, a New York State Police trainee who came to the show "because somebody gave me a free ticket."

Many in the stands fanned themselves with programs in the heat and formed long lines at the soft-drink counters.

"Hot?" said Martin Green, a management consultant from Florham Park, N.J. "Oh, yeah, this is New Jersey."

'People Are Tired'

"For me personally, it has been a disaster," said David Lytle of St. Petersburg, Fla. Lytle complained about the poor quality of sound at the show. But mostly, he said, "I think they have taken on too much. I don't think this would have been so bad if they had had a way to sandwich it in earlier in the weekend. I think they pushed it. People are tired."

An hour earlier, dozens of professional and Olympic athletes appeared at Byrne Arena, including boxer Muhammad Ali, tennis player Billie Jean King, baseball player Hank Aaron, gymnast Mary Lou Retton, football player Jim Brown, ice skater Peggy Fleming, golfer Nancy Lopez, swimmer Mark Spitz and hockey player Bobby Orr. In a sequined black evening gown, former Olympic gymnast Kathy Rigby McCoy led the auditorium in singing the national anthem.

A performance by the U.S. Army Drill Team at the Sports Salute drew polite applause. But the crowd responded with enthusiasm far greater than its numbers when giant TV monitors flashed a picture of the Statue of Liberty.

"Six months ago, I was tremendously concerned about whether we would lose sight," Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel said while watching the show. "We have not at all. Everything keeps coming back to the statue."

'Positive Media Event'

Much of the four-day weekend "certainly has been a media event," Hodel said, "but it is a very positive media event."

Lee A. Iacocca, chairman of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, which raised the money to restore the statue, spoke at Giants Stadium and was greeted by warm applause. "One more time, thank you America," he said. He then introduced 700 "men and women who have worked on the restoration effort." They crossed the great white stage to applause.

Iacocca also introduced Vice President George Bush to the crowd.

Los Angeles Times Articles