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Enjoy Exclusive Concerts? Buy a Condo

The “condo circuit” is big business as upscale communities host named entertainers for scheduled concerts. Tickets aren’t free but only residents can buy them.

PALM BEACH COUNTY – Through the end of March, scores of entertainers will sell out 250- to 1,300-seat venues in Palm Beach County. But unless you happen to live in a community where they perform, don’t expect to get a ticket.

These entertainers appear in what is known as “the condo circuit,” which originated in the 1980s in Broward and Miami Dade counties as entertainers went from one condo complex to another. Today, they mostly go from one upscale, retirement community to another in Palm Beach County.

As many as 80 communities are part of the circuit that has become a multimillion-dollar business. Richard Lloyd, CEO of Big Beat Productions, said his agency alone will do about $1.5 million of business this year. At least eight other booking agencies acquire talent for the circuit.

The $5 ticket of the 1980s has gone the way of the typewriter. Some golf-course communities charge as much as $50 with dessert and coffee thrown in. Communities have entertainment budgets in excess of $100,000. Some A-list entertainers receive more than $10,000. Not bad, especially if the entertainer books 20 to 30 shows.

“The quality is much better,” said Howard Rapp of NYK-Rapp, one of the bigger booking agencies. “They (the communities) pay what it takes to get good entertainment.”

Appearing in Palm Beach County this year are Tony Orlando, Charo, Little Anthony, Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits, comedians Rita Rudner and Robert Klein, and Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. of the Fifth Dimension. Tribute bands have become a circuit staple.

“The entertainers get to make money they would never have gotten. And they can work on a suntan,” said Stu Moss of the Coast 2 Coast entertainment agency. New groups try to break into the market every year. And so, too, do agents, according to Moss, adding, “It has become a cutthroat business as some agents try to steal your clients.”

The circuit generates revenue for Palm Beach County. Sales taxes are levied on the tickets. The entertainers stay at area hotels and frequent restaurants. They often rely on local bands.

At one time, the condo circuit was like the second coming of the Borscht Belt, an area in the Catskills where much of the Jewish community went to vacation and be entertained.

Sarge Pickman is one of the most sought-after entertainers. Simply known as “Sarge,” he is a pianist, a singer and a comedian extraordinaire. An African American, his adoptive parents raised him in a Jewish home in New York.

He is about as close to Borscht-Belt entertainment as you get. “They all remember Don Rickles, Shecky Greene and Jackie Mason,” he said. “There’s a little of all of them in me.”

Sarge got into the circuit by accident in 1996. He did cruise ships. His wife got pregnant and his parents developed health issues. He needed to perform locally. Sarge did 12 circuit shows in 1996; he will do 60 this year.

“If you are not as funny as the funniest person they have seen, then you are lousy,” he said. I must be doing something right; they keep inviting me back.”

Bennett Singer, the chair of the entertainment committee at Valencia Cove, said booking Sarge usually means a sellout, adding, “We usually don’t bring in someone two years in a row. But for Sarge, we made an exception.”

The Bronx Wanderers, an oldies group that performs in Las Vegas, has lined up 20 circuit shows in January. Vinny Adinolfi, the group’s spokesman, said the circuit helped the group become a Las Vegas headliner. “Without the circuit, that would not have happened. We will always make time for the circuit.”

The retirement-community audiences are much younger now than they used to be. “These are really active-adults, said Tony Monaco of the Turnstiles, a Billy Joel tribute band. Monaco is in his early 60s.

“I see my peers in the audience. Some are younger than I am.”

The four Century Villages and King’s Point communities continue to offer entertainers hundreds of bookings all by themselves. But the circuit now includes more golf-course communities. Last year for the first time, The Club at Ibis in West Palm Beach, one of the larger golf-course communities in the county, offered its members a five-show series that included comedian Robert Klein and a Michael Jackson impersonator. It is doing another series this year.

Country clubs like Ibis and Delaire in Delray Beach bring in a stage as well as sound and lighting systems. It involves some work and expense but it is well worth it, according to Udella Newman, chair of Delaire’s entertainment committee. With a room capacity of 250, Delaire sometimes has to subsidize shows, said Newman. So does Ibis.

The circuit received a big boost in the in the early 2000s when GL Homes began building the Valencias, 55-plus communities, with specially designed entertainment showrooms. There are nine Valencias; a tenth, Valencia Sound, is under construction. Since 2000, 10 other Palm Beach County retirement communities have been built that feature entertainment.

But Moss and other booking agents are concerned about the ability of some of the smaller communities with smaller showrooms to stay in the circuit.

“We lost some of them,” Moss noted. “They have aged. The interest is not what it was. And they are not getting enough in ticket sales to cover the higher costs.”

Tuscany Bay, with a 200-seat showroom, stages its shows on Sundays to get a better price. Walter Salidor, a resident volunteer, struggles to put together a three-show series for his 395-unit community.

“We don’t get a Tony Orlando,” Salidor noted. “Our agent (Moss) finds us up-and coming-groups. “That’s fine. Often, the tribute bands he gets sound better than the originals.”

Entertainment is alive and well at Valencia Shores, an 1,150-home development, west of Lake Worth. There will be 11 shows this season. Hedy Gordon, chair of the entertainment committee, said ticket sales more than cover expenses. Also, their jazz and cabaret club provides additional shows independent of the HOA.

Another large retirement community with extensive entertainment offerings is Coral Lakes. Its showroom has 642 theater-type seats. Ticket sales also generate a profit there. Coral Lakes offers 12 shows a year. Add in the clubs, which also bring in entertainers, and the number of shows is close to 20, according to General Manager Laurel Kadouri.

Kadouri believes the shows are a reason why some people buy at Coral Lakes. “When Realtors take clients to the clubhouse, they often show them the entertainment flyer,” she said.

Even family communities without showrooms such as Canyon Isles in suburban Boynton Beach are getting into the act. Last summer, it booked the Turnstiles, who performed on an outdoor stage set up on the lawn near the clubhouse. It was a bring-your-own chair event. Organizers say they may do it again this summer even though the event did not pay for itself.

© 2019 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.), Mike Diamond. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.