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WITH ART IMITATING LIFE, QUEEN CONNIE REIGNS

Concert Review

Connie Francis

Former teen queen at Shea's Performing Arts Center

Connie Francis is one of those performers whose life is part of the act. Now in her mid-60s, the one-time teen queen has evolved into an aging diva, worn down by life yet still able to transcend time for her fans.

Give her a stage, a greatest-hits set list and, most of all, an audience, and Francis can rise to the occasion and sell a song. That was apparent Wednesday night in Shea's Performing Arts Center in a benefit for the Variety Club Telethon.

Seeing Francis perform is like having dinner with the family matriarch. She shows pictures and videos of the old days, jokes around, reminisces, and even sheds a tear for the dearly departed.

Francis, wearing a pink outfit highlighted with rhinestones, did all that and more at Shea's. The early part of the concert focused on the late '50s and early '60s, when Francis was the most popular female singer in the world.

A screen came down from above the stage, there were clips of Francis singing on "American Bandstand," performing with the love of her life, the late Bobby Darin, and playing scenes in her movies.

Stardom came with her first big hit, "Who's Sorry Now," in 1958. On the movie screen at Shea's was young Connie, belting out the torch song with the bubbly exuberance of youth. Onstage, was a physically heavier performer and the voice was a bit weaker. But the song style and stage persona was as dynamic as ever.

Life experience, which for Francis means surviving four marriages, rape, manic depression and an addiction to prescription pills, gave her current interpretation of "Who's Sorry Now" a much more powerful meaning.

Francis, backed onstage with a 20-piece orchestra and an additional female singer, let the fans know what they meant to her.

"You are my inspiration," she said. "Through good times and bad times, you have always been there for me. I will never forget you."

One guy in the audience yelled out, "I love you, Connie."

"Where were you when I married those other stiffs," she replied, in a stock answer often heard during her shows.

Francis, one of the best-selling artists of all time, covered most of the big hits. The list includes "My Happiness," "Everybody's Somebody's Fool," "Stupid Cupid" and "Lipstick on Your Collar."

"Those were sweet and innocent days," Francis said.

She paced the show and hit her stride midway with two of her most poignant songs. After showing clips from her first movie, "Where the Boys Are," Francis went into that number and earned a standing ovation. It was the strongest her voice sounded all night, and she turned up the energy level for the song.

Francis then sang a couple of Italian songs, leading into another of her classics, "Mama." She began the song sitting on a stool in front of the orchestra and ended it by walking to center stage and belting out the lyrics. It remains one of Francis' most powerful numbers, and earned a huge ovation.

Francis possesses a kind of fragile aura. She has endured so much in her life, and the audience is aware of all the hardships. They go to see her sing, but there is also sense of bonding with a survivor when Francis appears. They want her to make it through the night and remember the good times despite all the bad ones.

Onstage, Francis is a polished professional, chatting, joking and discussing her private life as she would do with old friends. In a way, that's what those fans are to Connie Francis, and even if the voice isn't what is used to be, her spirit overcomes it.

e-mail: aviolanti@buffnews.com

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