He was one of America’s first teen idols, he starred as a perpetually teenage character in “Beach Blanket Bingo” and a run of several other “beach party” movies in the early 1960s, and his character in the hit movie “Grease” was named Teen Idol.
But Frankie Avalon, at age 78, enjoys playing characters his age just as much if not more than the ones that first made him a household name more than a half-century ago.
“You gotta grow – you can’t be a teeny-bopper all your life,” Avalon told Capital Newspapers in a recent telephone interview. “No one wants to see that — that’s a joke.”
All joking aside, Avalon will “act his age” in Wisconsin Dells Sept. 28 through Oct. 1, when he makes a special appearance as the godfather in the Palace Theatre’s production of the interactive play “Wedding Italiano.”
Avalon will reprise a role he performed for more than a decade in “Tony ‘n’ Tina’s Wedding” in Chicago. Like “Tony ‘n’ Tina,” and “Wedding Italiano” is produced and directed by Palace Theater owners Anthony and Joseph Tomaska.
The former “teen idol” said he looks forward to playing the godfather again.
“I love doing the show,” Avalon said. “I get to sing some of the songs that became famous for me, plus I play a character like the godfather.”
The godfather, like all of the characters in “Wedding Italiano,” interacts with the audience as part of the performance. The Palace refers to the play as “an interactive theatrical experience” in which the audience “participates in all aspects of the event,” including dancing, singing and eating at a sumptuous Italian buffet along with the members of the wedding party.
“I get to go around to audience members while I’m singing,” Avalon said. “I mingle with the audience, I sing to them, and I take photographs with them.”
For audience members, that means mingling with someone who truly was a “teen idol” in his day.
By the time he was barely an actual teenager, Avalon had performed in a sketch on “The Jackie Gleason Show,” and his recorded dominated the charts by the end of the 1950s, with two songs, “Venus” and “Why,” reaching number one.
Avalon’s second motion picture role ever, in 1960, was alongside John Wayne in “The Alamo,” and he went on to team with famed, original Mousketeer Annette Funicello in the string of “beach party” movies that helped to perpetuate the relatively new, “teen” culture, before the Beatles ever landed on American shores.
“Now that time has gone by, and I’m reminded of all the things we did, we really were the beginning of a period of time,” Avalon said. “We were pioneers.”
He moved closer to “living legend” status with his 1978 appearance in “Grease,” one of the most successful musicals of all time.
Avalon did not set out to become a show business icon, he said, but he expressed gratitude for such an enduring career.
“You just don’t think about that you just do your work, and if it lasts, it becomes something very special,” he said. “Between the beach party pictures and some of my music, and being part of the biggest musical ever in ‘Grease,’ it’s been great. And it’s good to still be around.”
Following Avalon’s six appearances in the play — at 1 p.m. Sept 28, 29 and 30 and Oct. 1 and at 7 p.m. Sept. 29 and Sept. 30 — “Wedding Italiano” will continue at the Palace through Oct. 29.
Tickets are $99 per person including dinner, and a “VIP Meet and Greet” with Avalon — including photograph and photo opportunity — is $129 per person.