The Big E: The Alley Cats prowl for local material

WEST SPRINGFIELD — When you travel as much as The Alley Cats, a renowned doo-wop and comedy group, the road itself can make its way into a performance.

During a recent 11-day stint in Du Quoin, Ill., approximately 85 miles outside of St. Louis, the band noticed that a thoroughfare en route to where they were staying had three deep dips.

Undeterred, the group sped over them at about 80 miles per hour, according to founding member Armando "Mando" Fonseca. They decided to mention this daredevil behavior to the locals in a subsequent performance.

"Everybody's done it, so they [got] a big laugh out of that," Fonseca told The Eagle during a recent telephone interview.

The uneven road was just one aspect of Du Quoin life that The Alley Cats worked into their shows; others included the area's limited shopping options, and the deer and turkey roaming the land. The group uses this tactic to further connect with audiences wherever it goes, which, according to Fonseca, now includes 42 states in the U.S. and 46 countries.

The Alley Cats will add another state to that list when they visit Massachusetts to perform at The Big E's Court of Honor Stage from Sept. 15-19. In addition to hearing hits from the '50s and '60s, Fonseca said audience members can count on some Springfield-oriented material in the programs' comedic portions.

"Anything we think is amusing that we know the crowd will get a kick out of, we'll throw that into the show," he said.

To get acquainted with their temporary communities, The Alley Cats typically use vacation rental websites such as Airbnb and VRBO to find housing that isn't as secluded as a hotel. Then they'll hang at local restaurants, read local publications and ask residents what they should do while they're in town. This constant search for subject matter, combined with the group's changing personalities — Fonseca estimates that there are 23 or 24 active members and more than 50 since the group was founded in 1987 — leads to fresh performances, according to the co-founder.

"Every show is different," Fonseca said.

While comedy is often what distinguishes each of The Alley Cats' performances, the group's unaccompanied music is what gives the shows consistency. The group runs through hits that audiences of all ages will recognize, including "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and "La Bamba."

The Alley Cats started when Fonseca wanted to sing Billy Joel's "The Longest Time" a cappella during a variety show at Fullerton College in California. He asked the music director who could help him with the song, and the classmates who did soon became his bandmates.

Since that time, The Alley Cats have performed in settings both glitzy and pastoral. Fonseca said his favorite shows were when the group opened for Jay Leno in Las Vegas.

"It's a whole different monster to perform there," Fonseca said. "You can get away with anything, and that makes our show a lot different than what we do in a family setting."


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