976-SING - Version 1

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In their first meeting, John Cox, Ron Hoffman, Rex Rotsko and Wayne Winstead began discussing what the group could do. Ron suggested singing the theme from Gilligan’s Island, but in a classical vein complete with props.Breaking news items also prompted ideas and soon a satire of presidential candidate Gary Hart’s improprieties were set to the tune of You Gotta Have Heart, and re-titled We Used to Have Hart.In subsequent rehearsals, a ten-minute musical vignette of the sinking of the Titanic was created with Rex tapping into his expertise on the subject. Each of the four were huge fans of Monty Python and drew from a myriad of examples to create biting, bizarre and often times “blue” presentations that betrayed the clean-cut image projected by the group’s physical attire. Working as a waiter at the time, Rex procurred some aprons and cloth napkins for the group, drawing from an example of a quartet appearing in Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl. In their first appearance at the Titanic Lounge, they were a hit and 976-SING was born. In their subsequent appearances, the audience grew in their appreciation. Wayne and Ron began to realize that they may have hit on something.


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In the months that followed, individuals began to suggest that 976-SING should try the comedy circuit.The group visited the Comedy Store for an open mike night. Their name was drawn from a hat and after their five-minute set, they were invited to perform in the weekly Monday night showcase in the Main Room.On their first open mike night at the Improv, luck followed them as their name was drawn and their five minute performance drew a big response from the audience.The booking manager met them in the hallway and told them to come back the next week with five minutes of “clean” material.They did so and soon were booking slots during the week.They’re first paying gig came by the way of Bill “the Fox” Foster, the world’s fastest beer drinker.At his son’s behest (whom Rex had metin an improvisation class), the Fox agreed to let 976-SING do a set at the Fox Inn in Santa Monica.After the show, the Fox took them to a lounge next door, proceeded to buy drinks and hired the group to fill in on Fridays and Saturdays while he was on the road.The relationship with the Fox lasted for the life of the group.The quartet also entered a competition:The Funniest Person in the Valley contest sponsored by the LA Cabaret, a comedy club in Encino, California.After clearing the elimination rounds, they went on to defeat the finalists including Tommy Davidson to become the Funniest Person in the Valley.In the midst of this string of successes, the group ran into its first real snag.


While Ron and Wayne were enthusiastic and pleased with the success of 976-SING, Rex wasn’t of the same mind that the group was actually going to go anywhere. He wanted to blow-off a set at the LA Cabaret and said so just before a set at the Comedy Store. The group went to Carney’s on Sunset andJohn, Ron and Wayneexpressed their commitment to the group and their commitment to fulfilling their obligations to their bookings. They pointed out the momentum they had built and their success in such a short time. Only then did Rex understand that the rest of the group was in for the long haul and that they believed they really had a chance to make something of their recent accomplishments.From that point on, the group became even more committed and focused. The group never missed a set.

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About six months after the start of 976-SING, Actor/Director Stephen Tobolowsky visited the Titanic Lounge in the summer of 1987 to see the Voom Sisters, a female version of 976-SING that starred a trio of talented actresses from the Ensemble Studio Theatre: Mary Wadkins (who was a Bulb in Dr. Faustus Lights the Lights), Heidi Helen Davis, and Elise Caitlin. After the very successful run of his play,Two Idiots in Hollywood, Tobolowsky was looking for a way to work the Voom Sisters into the movie version that he would direct in late summer. After appearing in the last few weeks of the run of Two Idiots in Hollywood, Wayne had been cast in the movie version along with the rest of the cast. Though Tobolowsky was at the Lounge to see the Voom Sisters, it was his first exposure to 976-SING. He told Wayne after their performance that he wanted to use the quartet in the movie as well. Two Idiots in Hollywood was shot in September of 1987, and 976-SING was featured in the climax of the movie (clip can be seen here) as well as on several of the recorded musical numbers. It was their only movie appearance. For an in-debth review of the movie from a fan, check out this link.

976-SING did appear on several television shows; their first on May 18, 1988. A cue card handler at Fox Television was at the early stages of a rehearsal of The Late Show with Ross Schaefer where the entire cast of Gilligan’s Island was reuniting for a special night.With only a few days before the taping of the show, the producer needed to find a group that could sing the theme from Gilligan’s Island.The cue card guy knew just the right group as he had seen 976-SING perform their classical version of the same song at a wrap party for a game show on which Rex and Wayne had worked in production.976-SING’s television debut was marked by the historical, one-time only reunion of the entire cast of Gilligan’s Island, for which they sang the theme song, with props and all (see clip here).


1988 brought the group to closer realization that they could very well become very popular and decided to bring in a director to help them with staging and presentation.Stephen Sachs, the managing director of the Ensemble Studio Theatre was the man for the job as he was a fan of the group right from their inception at the Titanic Lounge. The group became more polished and their bookings more frequent.


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976-SING's first booking out-of-state came at the beginning of 1989, as well as the introduction of their new "uniform." They traveled to Las Vegaswhere they opened for comedian George Wallace at Catch a Rising Star at Bally’s.Their one-week commitment was stretched into two when the club manager asked to extend the show. After that successful run, they were booking frequent appearances at the Imrov in Hollywood and Santa Monica, and appearing at the Ice House in Pasadena. Along with a tight rehearsal schedule, it was common for the quartet to have three-to-four bookings a week.But, with the exception of their recent run in Las Vegas, their bookings were mostly local as comedy clubs and hotels were used to booking single performers.Budgets for transportation, lodging and meals would quadruple when booking 976-SING, and the clubs were not ready to make that commitment without a better track record for the group.Still, their bookings were consistent and kept the four guys very busy.With the members still working at “regular jobs,” their success began to take a toll on the group.

976-SING 2012