If you're the kind of '50s or '60s person for whom Annette Funicello and Ed Byrnes represented the height of acting talent, you may enjoy "The Golden Boys of Bandstand" (WETA, Channel 26, at 10 tonight). Billed as a rock 'n' roll extravaganza featuring one-time teen idols Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell and Fabian, it is more of a treatise on contemporary lounge singers, albeit ones with large followings. And while these tired performances may tweak nostalgic nerves, they also lay bare the minimal talents of the artists (and in the case of Fabian, the absolute lack of any discernible talent).
The program, part of the "On Stage at Wolf Trap" series, was recorded last summer and is introduced by Beverly Sills, who promises "handsome Italian men, except this time they're not from the world of opera." Still, Sills promises, they'll be delivering "classic songs." Which they do, if you think of Rydell's "Sway," "Volare" and "Wild One" as classics (truth in advertising would require this last to be called "Mild One"). Fabian tackles "Turn Me Loose" and "Tiger," while Avalon revives two of his biggies, "Dede Dinah" and "Venus."
It's ridiculous to suggest that any of this has anything to do with rock 'n' roll, as the boys do in their tribute medley "Rock 'n' Roll Heaven." A sanitized reaction to the genuine spirits of rock, these manufactured teen idols had their day in the late '50s and early '60s; the Beatles didn't come any too soon to free us from such docile Eisenhower pop. Little wonder, then, that Bobby Rydell seems proud to be the inspiration for three questions in the "baby boomer" edition of Trivial Pursuit. Memories are made of this.
All three performers grew up within a three-block radius in South Philadelphia, and all three made their breakthroughs courtesy of Dick Clark's "American Bandstand" (Barry Manilow's "Bandstand" theme sets the mood of the evening). Twenty-five years later, Avalon and Rydell have evolved into pleasant crooners, smooth in their mannerisms, unremarkable in their delivery. Both seem most comfortable with maudlin medium-tempo tunes with easily traversed melodic lines (Rydell's "Forget Me" and Avalon's "Bobby Sox to Stockings").
Fabian, who looks fine, remains dreadful. He couldn't sing then and he hasn't gotten any better. Wisely, he's only briefly exposed, though long enough slightly to damage "Johnny B. Goode" and "I Love That Old Time Rock 'n' Roll." If he really did, he'd shut up.