Though nearly 30 years apart in age, these 2 performers find a common bond in ‘New Wrinkles’
This is the tale of two “Wrinkles.” One is just a little newer than the other.
Together, they’re part of an unstoppable entertainment sensation.
Pictured above: Georgie Dayton in her big moment singing the tune “San Francisco.” Photo: New Wrinkles
At 57, Sheri Lee is the youngest cast member in “New Wrinkles,” the annual senior musical revue that has become an institution on the Fresno-area entertainment scene. She first attended the show (which started in 1988 at Fresno City College) five years ago. Sheri and her son were in the audience, and she remembers leaning over and whispering to him, “Maybe when I turn 55 I’d like to do this.”
Though she initially thought that stepping out on a stage for a singing audition was about the scariest thing she could imagine, she mustered the courage to do so. And now it’s become “an opportunity for continued growth and just pure joy.”
At (nearly) 85, Georgie Dayton is the oldest member of “New Wrinkles: California Dreamin’ ” (which is in its opening weekend and runs through June 9). She is impossible to miss on stage. If Dayton were a type of light bulb, she’d be one of those massive baseball stadium floodlights that could blind an outfielder. She loves to entertain and can’t imagine doing anything else.
“I won’t stop until I wake up and see grass 6 feet over my head,” she says. “They’ll have to drag me out of there.”
I thought it would be fun to take these two performers a generation apart and ask them exactly the same questions. Here is the result:
What is your favorite show-biz memory?
Sheri: “It’s a very recent one … just last month my husband, two sons and I saw ‘Hamilton’ on Broadway. That show was such highlight for all of us.”
Georgie: “When I was a kid, my godmother took me to a place called the Gaslight in San Francisco. I was about 7. Sophie Tucker was appearing there. She had this big voice, and it was kind of raspy, and she reminded me of my mother. Sophie Tucker was so warm. She noticed my sister and me because we were the only kids in the audience. She came out into the audience, introduced herself and hugged me. She was wearing this beautiful red velvet dress. Whenever I sing, I try to talk to people beforehand. I got that from Sophie. She gave me a little piece of herself.”
‘New Wrinkles’ this year is about California. What is your favorite thing about the Golden State?
Sheri: “The weather. I love living in a warm climate.”
Georgie: “I love the weather. I hate cold weather. I don’t do cold. I like snow on postcards, and movies, and calendars, but I don’t like to live in it.”
When you were a kid and stayed home from school sick, what was your favorite show on TV?
Sheri: “I Love Lucy,” “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Get Smart.”
Georgie: She didn’t have a TV. Any radio show would do, including Jack Benny.
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If you were on a desert island and could only take one CD (and a player) with you, what would it be?
Sheri: A CD of the 50 most beloved hymns.
Georgie: Anything by Bette Midler. (“She always energizes me. When I hear her sing, I just take off.”)
What is the craziest thing you’ve ever done at a party?
Sheri: “Well, since my kids might be reading this, let’s go with the second craziest thing … I danced and sang (with a curling iron as my microphone) to Meatloaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights” (with my then boyfriend, now husband). “Well I remember every little thing as if it happened only yesterday…” That was THE song during my college years. Such a fun memory! And yes, I’d do it again.”
Georgie: She was in a Christmas show at the Golden Chain Theatre. At the last minute, she got stuck singing “Frosty the Snowman,” a song she didn’t particularly know or like. So she made up her own lyrics. Later, at the cast party, everyone ribbed her unmercilessly. She got tired of it and warned them to stop. As the director started to make one more crack about Frosty, she mooned him. (“At the time I was 65 years old, so I was just a kid. I thought that would shut him up.”)
Have you ever had a practical joke played on you backstage? If so, what was it?
Sheri: “Not a practical joke per se, but a now funny, but then terrifying, situation. My first year in the show I was in the backstage bathroom washing my hands when I heard the speaker from the stage playing “It’s a season of firsts…” (the intro to “Oh What A Night” from Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons). I was supposed to be entering stage right for a big dance number. The introductory monologue set to the music was exactly 16 seconds till the dance started. I literally darted out of the women’s dressing room and sprinted across the back of the Theatre to make it onto the stage JUST in time for the first dance move. I will never forget that!
Georgie: Nope. She takes the entertaining thing quite seriously. People are paying good money to watch her perform, after all. (“I’m not much of a player when I’m backstage. I tell people standing next to me, ‘Don’t talk to me unless you’re on fire. ‘When I’m not in the theater, there’s nothing I won’t do for fun. But I don’t fool around when I’m at the theater.”
Who was running for president in the first election you voted in?
Sheri: Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter.
Georgie: John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon.
What color was the tuxedo your high school prom date wore?
Sheri: Off-white tuxedo with a peach bow tie and cummerbund.
Georgie: Black and white.
What was your first car?
Sheri: A 1977 white Toyota Celica.
Georgie: A 1963 brown and cream Ford Fairlane. (“I felt like a Hollywood starlet driving that car.”)
Who was your first movie-star crush?
Sheri: “Oh this is embarrassing … but, Shaun Cassidy. He was one of the Hardy Boys. I was sure I was going to marry him.”
Georgie: “Dennis Morgan. He was gorgeous. He was a tall Irishman with dark hair and a smile that would blind you.”
What is your big moment in this year’s “New Wrinkles”?
Sheri: “Well, I get to play a character in this year’s show, and that’s been a special honor. Also, it’s pretty awesome to be able to stand on a platform and dance during the Beach Boys scene.”
Georgie: She wears a really big hat with a city skyscape, a la “Beach Blanket Babylon,” while singing “San Francisco.” The hat weighs 27 pounds, and she insisted that the folks in the college scene shop make it no wider than the distance between her outstretched arms — so she could balance it correctly. It takes two people to lift it up backstage to put it on her head before she goes on.
And now, for the biggie: Why do you think “New Wrinkles” has kept going for so many years?
Sheri: “I think New Wrinkles touches hearts in a unique way. It’s live entertainment at its best… singing, dancing, captivating storyline, beautiful sets… fun! It continues to spark joy and provide a high quality experience for the audience. And we get them to sing along!”
Georgie: Singers and actors do something most people can’t, which is why so many people are enamored of entertainers. You can live vicariously through them. Likewise, “New Wrinkles” features dancing and singing people who are full of life. “It’s exciting for some in the audience to see someone who can do that, because so many of them can’t. It’s because they bring us something that’s not attainable for all of us. I’m just so happy to be part of that dynamic that makes people feel good.”