It’s a gorgeous Thursday, Sept. 8, 2021 afternoon at Holmdel, NJ’s PNC Bank Arts Center. As we make our way up to the spacious amphitheater, music lovers are already lining up for an afternoon concert by Vinnie Medugno featuring The Chiclettes and The Coda Band.
Vinnie Medugno is an entertainer with Staten Island roots. Performing since he was a child, he got his professional start as a DJ at private functions while building the performance skills to open as a singer for some of biggest names in music here on the PNC Bank Arts Center stage.
In 2009, his debut single was a hit on the Billboard Underground Dance Music Chart and he’s also recorded several albums including Happy Heart, a selection of music and memories from yesteryear, and his latest release, Jamming with the Coda Band featuring The Chiclettes. In addition to working as a professional entertainer, he also works as a broadcasting/media teacher in Staten Island, NY.
Medugno headlined his first show at the PNC Bank Arts Center in 2018. His concert today is the first in a series of three free Fall 2021 afternoon performances for NJ residents. Other shows in the series include Gary Puckett and The Union Gap with The Association on September 14 and Jay Siegel’s Tokens with Ron Dante on September 28. All shows are presented by the Garden State Arts Foundation under the direction of VP Ron Gravino, ably assisted by Cookie Santiago.
Following this afternoon’s sound check, we take a moment to chat with Medugno and ask him to share his thoughts about being back in New Jersey performing at the PNC Bank Arts Center. Replies Medugno, “I think it’s fitting that everything goes full circle — this community has embraced me so fully,” before adding, “After the past year and a half, it’s nice to finally see things getting back to normal, so if I can do something to help, I will. As a result, I want to make everyone here feel special today and have some real feel-good moments.”
With regards to why, as a young entertainer, he’s always been attracted to performing music from the past, Medugno explains, “I was raised on it! That music was the soundtrack of every weekend, and I also listened to it on the radio. I had a love for Elvis, Sinatra, and so many of the people I’ve had the pleasure of eventually sharing the stage with including people like Tony Orlando, Bobby Rydell, and others.”
Excited about the release of his new album, Jamming with The Coda Band featuring the Chiclettes, Medugno reveals, “It was basically rehearsal and prep for today’s show. We recorded each song in a single take just like it was a jam session, and the album even includes outtakes and dialogue which make it pretty unique.”
When asked what’s it’s like to have a dual career as both a professional entertainer and teacher, Medugno responds, “It feels nice to be able to do what I do. I’m a teacher during the week and a ‘rock star’ on the weekends. I know when I’m older and look back on what I did when was young, I’ll say, ‘That was pretty damn cool!’”
Following our chat with Medugno, we take our seats inside the PNC Bank Arts Center amphitheater where Garden State Arts Foundation VP Ron Gravino welcomes the crowd. Audience members cheer when Gravino says, “I hope you missed us as much as we missed you!” After thanking the sponsors of today’s show — including PNC Bank, Live Nation Entertainment, and Music Radio 77 WABC — Gravino welcomes The Chiclettes to the stage.
The trio — comprised of Deanna Caroll, Susan Marten, and Sarah Tracey — start things off with a bang as they dance in shimmering hot pink dresses and sing in three-part harmony on upbeat renditions of The Pointer Sisters’ “Jump (For My Love)” and Aretha Franklin’s “Freeway of Love.” As they perform, they’re accompanied by The Coda Band’s Mary Beth Ruan-Mastropaolo on saxophone, Dennis DiBrizzi on keyboards, Joe DeAngelis on guitar, Paul Page on bass, and Pete Mastropaulo on drums.
After introducing themselves, The Chiclettes perform a tribute to female vocal groups of the ’50s and ’60s featuring songs like “Then He Kissed Me” by The Crystals, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by The Shirelles, and “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes. The crowd happily sings along with the three talented vocalists as they perform complete with dance steps, arm motions, and finger snaps.
Heads bop, toes tap, and music lovers sing along to The Chiclettes’ medley of Motown songs. After Deanna Caroll leads the group on an energetic version of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas’ “Dancing In the Streets,” the trio puts their spin on several Supremes’ hits including “Come See About Me” and “Stop! In the Name of Love” before performing a soulful interpretation of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” which elicits cheers, shouts, and applause.
Following a spirited medley of The Andrews Sisters’ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and Chubby Checker’s “The Hucklebuck,” The Chiclettes impress with a medley of Dionne Warwick/Burt Bacharach tunes including “Walk On By” and “Say A Little Prayer” featuring saxophonist Mary Beth Ryan-Mastropaolo on the EWI, or electronic wind instrument, imitating the sounds of such instruments as the flugelhorn, flute, and strings. The captivating medley concludes with the group’s interpretation of Dionne Warwick and The Spinners’ “Then Came You.”
Audience members rise to their feet for this appealing act, and the group responds with an encore of The Three Degrees’ “When Will I See You Again,” Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” and The Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There,” which has people standing and cheering as the performers bow and acknowledge The Coda Band.
During intermission, we chat with several audience members who share their opinions of the concert thus far. Exclaims Jeanette from Brooklyn, “I love The Chiclettes! They are so fantastic. They sang songs that I had deep in my memory, and I relived a wonderful time in my life.” Acknowledging, “I came here today especially to see The Chiclettes — they have great energy and they drew me in,” Jeanette further notes, “and I’ve seen The Coda Band before and they were great, too!”
Christine from Staten Island agrees, adding, “The Chiclettes’ energy was great! They were captivating, and had great song choices.” Explaining, “I was singing along the whole time; these are the songs of our lives, and it’s especially fun when you know all the words,” Christine also jokes, “It’s so great that the PNC Bank Arts Center has these shows during the day. That way, we retirees can take pictures and send them to all of our working friends!”
Before Medugno takes the stage, we take a moment to chat with two people in the crowd who tell us they know Vinnie quite well. The first is Joanne Lopes who, these days, not only teaches with Medugno at Port Richmond High School, but who also helped to “discover” him many years ago when he was a junior high school student and she was a teacher.
Recalls Lopes, “At the time, Vinnie was playing the clarinet in the school band. We had a talent show in seventh grade where Vinnie came out and performed Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life” in a tuxedo holding a champagne glass in his hand, and everyone started screaming! I told the principal I wanted Vinnie in my performing arts program and we got him out of band. By eighth grade, he was cast as the lead in Fiddler on the Roof — the littlest Tevye ever — and he was fabulous!” concluding, “Today, Vinnie runs the media program at Port Richmond High School, and the things he does for the kids there are amazing!”
One person who can attest to Medugno’s teaching ability is his former high school student, Emily from Staten Island, who is also here at the PNC Bank Arts Center today. Asserts Emily, “He was my high school media teacher, and he’s the best teacher ever! When I was a freshman, I hated school, but after meeting him, I became the one who would stay at school working until 8 pm doing all sorts of events.”
Recalling,“We used to all call him ‘Vin’ and hang out in his office,” Emily insists, “He’s just a really cool teacher. He plays ‘50s music all the time and the kids wind up loving it,” admitting, “Now it’s one of my favorite types of music, too.”
Acknowledging, “Vin is the reason I am the person I am today,” Emily discloses, “He would call me during the pandemic to check up on me,” before adding, “He always goes above and beyond for everyone. Now I’m studying media/communications in college, and I even got an internship here at the PNC Bank Arts Center thanks to him.”
Audience members cheer for Vinnie Medugno as he takes the stage and opens his portion of the show crooning Tom Jones’ “Help Yourself.” Joined by The Chiclettes in sparkling midnight blue dresses and accompanied by The Coda Band, Medugno’s rich vibrato resonates on this upbeat version of the song that has people dancing in their seats.
Following a jazzy arrangement of Barry White’s “My First, My Last, My Everything,” Medugno puts smiles on faces with a bouncy version of Lou Christie’s “I’m Gonna Make You Mine,” The Chiclettes’ staccato back-up vocals supporting Vinnie’s falsetto lead.
Additional highlights of Medugno’s set include a snappy rendition of The Archies’ “Sugar Sugar” which gets an audience member, Frank, up and dancing at the very back of the amphitheater. As people turn to watch him, Frank continues to dance down the venue’s steps until he is directly in front of the stage where he gets others dancing and clapping along to the music.
Music lovers sing along with Vinnie on Herman’s Hermits’ “There’s a Kind of Hush” and snap along in rhythm to his version of The Tokens’ “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”
After exclaiming, “It’s nice to see all of you after the last one-and-a-half to two years! I hope you are healthy and well,” Medugno and The Coda Band present a top-notch arrangement of Tony Orlando and Dawn’s “Candida.” Audience members wave their arms back and forth to the music as Vinnie strolls back and forth on stage, connecting with the crowd.
Medugo receives a standing ovation for his rendition of “Hurt” by Elvis Presley, his big voice booming as keyboard, bass, and guitar follow The Coda Band’s musical director Pete Mastropaulo’s steady drumbeat. Next, Medugno features The Chiclettes’ Deanna Caroll on a duet version of Paul Anka’s upbeat “(I Believe) There’s Nothing Stronger Than Our Love.”
Afterwards, to slow things down, Vinnie takes a seat on a stool to perform a heartfelt rendition of Don McLean’s lovely “Castles in the Air” where he is expertly accompanied by Joe DeAngelis on guitar, in addition to the rest of The Coda Band.
Telling the crowd, “The best piece of advice I can give my students is the words to this song,” Medugno performs the classic ’40s hit, “Dream (When You’re Feeling Blue),” crooning, “Dream, when the day is through/Dream and they might come true/Things never are as bad as they seem/So dream, dream, dream,” to avid applause.
Medugno follows up with his interpretation of the Buddy Holly ballad, “True Love Ways,” along with his rendition of Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Il Mondo” on which he sings both in Italian and English. Declaring, “Let’s keep the Italian stuff going!” he performs Bobby Rydell’s “Volare,” where The Chiclettes join him on on this happy tune in both English and Italian.
Music lovers sing and clap along on Herman’s Hermits’ “Silhouettes,” and the Jersey crowd laughs when Medugno changes the lyric of Dion’s “Runaround Sue” from “She took my love then ran around/With every single guy in town” to “She took my love then ran around/With every freakin’ guy from Middletown.”
The sound of chimes rings out as Medugno launches into the rubato intro of his final number, “Cara Mia,” a song which was originally recorded by Jay and the Americans featuring Jay Black. The power of Medugno’s full voice is highlighted as he holds out notes to the great delight of the crowd which gives him yet another standing ovation.
For an encore, Vinnie invites The Chiclettes to take center stage and twist along with him on Sam Cooke’s “Twistin’ the Night Away.”
As they twist, the driving beat of the bass, guitar, drums, and sax propel the honky tonk piano line. The audience dances along with the swingin’ band before standing and cheering while Medugno takes a well-earned bow and thanks everyone in the audience for coming today.
As we make our way out of the amphitheater, we chat with several music lovers in the crowd who share their opinions of this afternoon’s performance.
Comments Allen from Monroe Township, “Vinnie has a fabulous voice and is a terrific performer — I hope we can see him many more times.” Adds his wife, Maxine, “Vinnie is multi-talented, charismatic, and adorable,” acknowledging, “‘Cara Mia’ was my favorite. That’s his song. He nailed it just like Jay Black did!”
Barbara from Roseland agrees, calling Medugno, “Great! Fabulous!” and adding, “‘Cara Mia’ was my favorite, but I also loved Vinnie’s interpretation of ‘Castles in the Air’ by Don McLean and the Buddy Holly song, ‘True Love Ways.’”
Whereas Doris from Roseland acknowledges, “We’ve followed Vinnie for a few years now; he’s a great singer and we really like his music,” Maddy from Staten Island notes, “He has this terrific voice and personality. He’s just a great all-around entertainer.”
Lastly, we chat with Sue and John from Rahway. Remarks Sue, “Vinnie has such a voice — it’s so impressive,” before John concludes by predicting, “He ain’t gonna be a teacher much longer!”
For further info on Vinnie Medugno, please click on vincentmedugno.com. To learn more about The Chiclettes, please go to chiclettes.com. For more info on The Coda Band, see facebook.com/CodaProductions. For information on future Garden State Arts Foundation concerts at the PNC Bank Arts Center, please go to gsafoundation.org.
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