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Would-Be Stars Are Taking Note of Sing-Alongs at Two Clubs

March 19, 1988|KIRK JACKSON | Times Staff Writer

On just about any Tuesday night, 57-year-old Francis Albert Douglass can be found on the stage of the Pierce Street Annex Club on 17th Street in Costa Mesa paying exuberant vocal homage to Francis Albert You-Know-Who.

Douglass belts out Old Blue Eyes' "New York, New York" in a style that usually has the 75 or so patrons who gather for the club's weekly Starmaker Show applauding wildly.

"I get a kick out of singing," Douglass said simply.

Douglass' enthusiasm is shared by Julie Beck. A printer and graphic artist for the city of Fountain Valley, the 23-year-old Beck has a passion for Cyndi Lauper, Pat Benatar and Prince. "They call me an alto," Beck said before jumping to the stage at Pierce Street Annex to perform Prince's "Sign o' the Times," "but I can hit some pretty high notes. It's not a pretty voice; it's a rowdy voice."

Meanwhile, around the corner at Hogue Barmichael's on Newport Boulevard, Mark Blucker, a 32-year-old wallpaper consultant, sings a crowd-pleasing version of the Eagles' "Tequila Sunrise."

"I like the excitement I get just from being up there and singing and I must admit I enjoy the attention I get when I'm done," Blucker said.

Every Tuesday night rockers from around the county flock to the two clubs to display their talents. The singers take to the stage and sing over a tape of a popular song that has had its lead vocals erased. And--for a fee--they can take home audio- or videocassettes of their performances.

For the past two years, Pierce Street Annex, which has branches in San Francisco, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Anchorage, Alaska, Tahoe City, Ca., and Washington has been running its "Starmaker Show" on Tuesday evenings. Five weeks ago, the owners of Hogue Barmichael's hired Singing With the Hits, a Los Angeles-based company, to start a Tuesday night sing-along show at their club.

"Everybody would really like to be a rock star and (for those) people who have given up that dream and gone into the real world, this gives them a chance to fantasize for a minute," said David Gladstone, owner of Singing With the Hits.

The fantasy is created through the use of a variety of equipment that includes cassette decks, videotape cameras, a compact disc laser player that plays videotaped versions of the songs, and a "sing-along machine"--a monitor that plays cassettes and eight-track tapes through a house public address system. The tapes are specially made by various companies.

The fantasy is a relatively expensive one for club owners to provide: Hogue Barmichael's pays Singing With the Hits $350 a night for the show, according to Gladstone, who says that prices can reach as high as $1,000 for a five-hour show at a private party.

Pierce Street Annex has spent from $3,000 to $5,000 on its equipment, according to Marty Davis, a co-founder of all six nightclubs and co-owner of the Costa Mesa club and two others.

However, he says, the costs of the performance itself are not passed on to the customer.

The show "fills the place and of course we make our money back on liquor sales," said Pierce Street Annex general manager John Waters.

"It will pay off," said Daniel Baralt, one of six co-owners of Hogue Barmichael's. "It has increased business. Not dramatically yet, but it does keep building and building."

The idea has not really gained a strong foothold in Orange County, according to Gladstone, who started his business about two years ago. "I've been marketing to Orange County, but we haven't found the right clubs to make it happen," he said, adding that his company nevertheless has "a terrific Orange County following."

"It's just a matter of finding the right bar with the right atmosphere with the right management that has insight into what's new," Gladstone said. He added that his company does better in Los Angeles County.

Bruce McKagan, director of entertainment for Restaurant Enterprises Group, parent company for the Reuben's restaurant chain, said that Gladstone's company worked at the Reuben's South Coast Plaza and Woodland Hills restaurants from 1986 until six or seven months ago. McKagan said the shows were dropped because regular customers interested in dancing would leave after seeing the show, believing the restaurant had given up dancing.

"There were more people coming in on those nights, but less people coming in on the other nights," he said.

McKagan added that although the show brought in extra customers, it was too expensive for the restaurants to make a profit.

Davis said that the "Starmaker Show" began at the San Francisco club three years ago and "was just so overwhelmingly successful we expanded it to the other stores."

Davis said that the shows are doing "very well" in all of the clubs except the one in Washington, where he says the program will be switched from Sunday to a weekday to see if business improves.

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