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Thursday, November 2, 2017


I didn't grow up with Richard Simmons, but somehow it seems as though the eternally cheerful and preternaturally flamboyant fitness guru in the sparkly tank tops and short-shorts has always been around, exhorting his overweight followers to dance their way to weight loss and a happier, healthier body.

Apart from his "Deal-A-Meal" diet plan informercials and some raucous appearances on Letterman, Richard is best known for his "Sweatin' To The Oldies" tapes, now available on DVD.  All five of them, plus a bonus motivational program called "Love Yourself and Win: Six Steps to Personal Self-Esteem and Permanent Weight Loss", have been collected in Time-Life's 6-disc DVD set RICHARD SIMMONS: SWEATIN' TO THE OLDIES: 30TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION.

Richard released his first "Sweatin' to the Oldies" VHS tape in 1988 and it became a big enough hit to warrant four sequels over the years, each featuring his trademark method of turning dance (to his favorite hit singles from the 50s and 60s) into fitness routines, with a different colorful theme for each entry in the series.

The first takes place (after a funny anti-piracy warning in which Richard has his own mother arrested) in a fantasy "High School Prom" setting where the ebullient fitness guru and about twenty of his chosen students of various body types go through ten routines set to non-stop song covers (a live band appears onstage).  The exercises are strenuous but fun, and hardly the kind of boot-camp workouts that some fitness DVDs inflict on the more hardcore viewer. 

Most of them consist of Richard's patented choreography that owes more to Broadway than anything else (he likes to envision his programs as song-and-dance theatrical presentations) with a healthy dose of period dance moves (the Twist, the Pony) mixed with shouts of "Egyptian Walk!" and "Hallelujah Hands!"

His back-up dancers are totally into it, being that most of them are students who themselves are losing or have lost considerable poundage doing this stuff.  Having gone through the same experiences himself, Richard's empathy for their feelings and desire to better their lives gives them a connection that's glowingly evident whenever we see them joyfully moving together to each catchy song. 

Production values are colorful and eye-pleasing, with very good camerawork, direction, and editing helping to make each series entry watchable not only for those participating but for passive viewers as well.  The cover bands are terrific--various individual members occasionally wander down off the stage to jam with Richard for awhile--making these DVDs pleasant background noise even when you don't feel like exercising. 

Mainly it's Richard's warm and engaging personality, along with the obvious care he has for his students and friends (which is clearly mutual), that set the "Sweatin' to the Oldies" series apart.  While he does occasionally engage in some of the cartoonish antics he's known for, most of the time we're seeing Richard just being his unique self within his very own comfort zone, which he shares with his deeply enthusiastic cast.  

Their joy is evident in the final dance line portion of each show in which individual students show off their moves while a graphic tells us how many pounds they've lost under Richard's tutelage.  Not only is this a fun way to wrap up each entry, but it also gives viewers yearning to shed some pounds themselves a little incentive.

Disc two takes place in "Pop's Diner", a disco-fied neon version of a 50s soda fountain.  Disc three has the most fun and inventive setting, "Sweatin Land Amusement Park", a brightly-colored fantasy backdrop with everything from a carousel to a mock ferris wheel.  Disc four is the "Saturday Sock Hop", and Disc five takes us "Downtown" with a Sesame Street-type city scene.  The live band is featured in all but the last one. 

Disc six is Richard's motivational presentation "Love Yourself and Win: Six Steps to Personal Self-Esteem and Permanent Weight Loss", which eschews the previous frivolity to get to the heart of the matter.  Here, his own history of being overweight and depressed gives him the empathy to connect to his listeners and help them find hope and optimism enough to improve their own lives. 

The first four discs contain numerous bonus features (approximately 100 minutes worth). The always-interesting Richard appears in several interview segments, as do some of his long-time students who give their testimonials and success stories both individually and as part of a roundtable reunion. Topping it off is a 20-page booklet packed with fun pics and a full list of the more than fifty songs heard in the collection.

I won't lie--I didn't exercise a bit while watching RICHARD SIMMONS: SWEATIN' TO THE OLDIES: 30TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION.  But I enjoyed it anyway, and if I ever do make the commitment to start sweatin' off a few pounds, this is the first place I'll do the "Egyptian Walk" to. 

Type:  DVD/6 Discs
Running Time: 440 mins.
Rating:  N/A
Genre:  TV DVD
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 (4:3)
Audio:  Stereo



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