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Bobby Darin show comes to Waukegan

Bobby Darin was a singer, songwriter and actor who managed to achieve a great deal of success in a short time.

Darin was a Grammy Award-winning singer and a Golden Globe Award-winning and Academy Award-nominated actor. He sang rock, pop, jazz, country and folk and was a prolific songwriter – known for hits like “Mack the Knife,” “Dream Lover,” “Splish Splash,” “Beyond the Sea,” “Queen of the Hop” and “Clementine.” He won the Grammy for Best New Artist in 1960.

Waukegan audiences will have that chance when entertainer Ron Gartner performs “Splish Splash: The Music of Bobby Darin” at 7:30 p.m. April 4 at the Genesee Theatre.

Gartner’s show seeks to honor one of America’s greatest entertainers who died too soon at 37 in 1973.

“People said he could’ve been as big as Sinatra,” Gartner said. “He was a major movie star, a TV star, producer, writer and musician who could play nine different instruments. He was the Michael Buble of his era, I like to say. He was a chameleon in terms of music. And the arc of his career was 15 years.”

Gartner said audience members will know every song.

“I don’t try to imitate him, but we use all his original charts,” he said. “There is multimedia throughout the show. We tell the story of his life growing up as a sickly child and why he wound up ultimately dying at the age of 37.”

Gartner grew up in Los Angeles, a fan of Chicago rhythm and blues and Motown. He started singing by accident, when one of his teachers at Hebrew school heard him sing and asked him to sing with a synagogue choir for the high holidays. That lasted for four years – until his voice changed, he said laughing.

The first time he heard Bobby Darin, he fell in love with the young man’s soulful voice. A singer and bandleader himself as a teenager, Gartner was almost signed to Motown Records. At the last minute, they passed on him and instead signed a young upstart named Stevie Wonder.

When the record contract didn’t happen, he went into his family’s textile business, he said. He quit singing for many years. It was when he moved to New York in 1994 that he got the itch to sing again. He started singing in piano bars and nursing homes – anywhere that would have him – sometimes not making a dime on the performance.

When he was asked by a casino’s talent buyer if he could do an entire show of Bobby Darin songs, he immediately said yes.

“I probably knew about 10 songs by heart,” he said.

He has since added another 12 songs along with a seven-piece band and multimedia.

“It’s a swinging show,” he said.

He is also the manager partner of an entertainment booking agency called BiCoastal Productions, which represents acts like The Guess Who, The Sharpe Family Singers, Smokey Robinson’s Miracles, The Doo Wop Project, Gangstagrass, One Night in Memphis, iLuminate, The Red Hot Chilli Pipers and many others.

“My singing begat the agency,” he said.

Although a businessman by day, he’s still a singer at heart and loves to perform the Bobby Darin tribute. In addition to Darin’s pop hits, he performs songs from Darin’s Broadway, country and folk eras, as well.

Darin was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 by his friend, singer Paul Anka; and into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1999. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2010 Grammy Awards. He won a Golden Globe award in 1962 for his first film” Come September.” That film co-starred his first wife, movie star Sandra Dee.

“If there was internet back in 1960, 1961, they would’ve been blowing up the internet. As it was, it was just paparazzi trailing them wherever they went,” Gartner said. “His first girlfriend was Connie Francis. He was trying to write songs for her until her dad threw him out.”

He has a big reveal, a “gasp” moment, at the end of the show. Don’t Google it if you want to be surprised.

People are welcome to dress up in their favorite ‘60s poodle skirts and chinos.

“It will be a swinging afternoon,” he said. “They won’t be able to sit in their seats.”

Annie Alleman is a freelance reporter for the News-Sun.

‘Splish Splash! The Music of Bobby Darin’

When: 7:30 p.m. April 4

Where: Genesee Theatre, 203 N. Genesee St., Waukegan

Tickets: $25

Information: 847-263-6300;

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