It’s a perfect day for a concert at Holmdel, NJ’s PNC Bank Arts Center this Tuesday, September 12, 2023 afternoon as music lovers await a free Garden State Arts Foundation performance starring singer, songwriter, and entertainer Tony Orlando.
Ron Gravino, Vice President of GSAF’s Board of Trustees, welcomes an audience of several thousand to today’s event.
He thanks the sponsors of the show along with GSAF executive director Cookie Santiago and Bob O’Brien and the GSAF volunteers for their help with today’s production.
Gravino also introduces comedian John Pizzi who takes the stage joking, “I’m the world’s greatest comedian in my price range.”
After telling a series of jokes and performing magic tricks, Pizzi welcomes his ventriloquist puppet, Baby Dakota, who wishes the crowd a “great end of the summer.”
Moving on to “the oldest person in the world,” Pizzi tells his puppet, Uncle Smiley, to “say something to make everyone here feel at home” and Smiley grouchily retorts, “Welcome K-Mart shoppers.” Then, Pizzi introduces the crowd to his lovable bad boy puppet, Andy, and asks him, “What’s worse than ants in your pants?” to which Andy bluntly replies, “Uncles.”
Pizzi invites Jim, a member of the audience, to join him on stage where he dresses Jim in a specially-designed monkey outfit and has him perform while seated on Pizzi’s lap.
Pizzi ends his set by acknowledging that despite the recent pandemic, “We never lost our sense of humor,” and concluding, “We’re all damn Americans and we don’t take no sh*t from anyone!”
Gravino returns to introduce today’s headliner, Tony Orlando, who takes the stage along with guitarist Rich Sibley, bassist “Captain” Sibley, keyboardist Kerry Cole, drummer Tim Pope, keyboardist David Cassavitis, and guitarist Rick Lehigh.
Looking out at the crowd comprised primarily of senior citizens, Orlando jokes, “We all have the same color hair!” acknowledging, “I’m now 79 years old, and so are you” — meaning, “We’ve all grown together.”
Orlando shocks many in the audience when he reveals, “This performance will be the last time I’ll work in New Jersey,” explaining, “I’ve decided to retire. I can still hit the ball, but I just can’t run the bases.”
Referring to his youth, when he originally imagined future musical stardom, Orlando recalls, “As a young man, I would dream about you guys — and you’re still here!” prior to performing a nostalgic rendition of The Drifters “Up on the Roof” where his voice sounds as rich and full as ever.
The crowd cheers, and Orlando introduces a surprise guest, The Tokens’ Jay Siegel, who gives an energetic performance of The Tokens’ biggest hit, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”
Orlando relates that it was Siegel who, years ago, took him into the recording studio to produce two momentous hits. Tony sings lead and Jay sings backup on the first one, 1970’s “Candida,” where the crowd happily sings along on the song’s “Candida/We can make it together” refrain.
The pair follows up with lively rendition of the second one — 1971’s “Knock Three Times” — which has the audience singing along on the “Knock three times on the ceiling if you want me” chorus. The crowd cheers, and as he leaves the stage Siegel tells concertgoers that Orlando is “one of the nicest people in show biz.”
Orlando points out several members of his fan club, Tony’s Troopers, who are seated in the audience. Explaining that some of the Troopers have followed him since they were children, he thanks them all for their many years of support.
Orlando also talks about meeting Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson — his backup singers in Dawn — and creating hit records with them including 1973’s “Say Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose” and “He Don’t Love You Like I Love You.” He performs both with gusto, expertly accompanied by his musician colleagues.
Acknowledging that he and his band have been together for 30 years, Orlando introduces the group, pointing out that his keyboardist, David, is actually his little brother, and that his bassist, known as the “Captain,” is only 19 years old. Tony asks the Captain if he’s ever heard of his 1973 hit, “Tie A Yellow Ribbon,” to which the Captain replies, “I don’t think so, sir.”
The Captain’s voice is featured on a lively cover version of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al,” where Tony plays with drumsticks on a stool and drummer Tim Pope performs a Gene Krupa-style drum solo prior to playing on the stool himself.
Pope continues his featured time in the spotlight by tapping his drumsticks on the floor as the crowd cheers him along.
Tony plays maracas on a cover version of Earth, Wind and Fire’s “September” which features guitarist Rick Lehigh on lead vocals. Then, Orlando and the band follow up with a energetic medley of songs which feature the “C, F, G7” chord progression including Richie Valens’ “La Bamba,” The Isley Brothers’ “Twist and Shout,” The McCoys’ “Hang On Sloopy,” and The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’.”
As Tony and the band wrap up the medley with The Sandpipers’ “Guantanamera,” a woman in the audience happily dances in the aisle holding a tape measure. “How about a hand for this lady?” says Orlando, as the woman comes forward to dance at the edge of the stage while Tony sings a scorching blues number for her.
Following lively applause, Orlando acknowledges, “I worked with two black magic women,” as he segues into Santana’s “Black Magic Woman” on an arrangement which features top-notch electric guitar playing by Rick Lehigh before concluding with a coda of Santana’s “Oye Como Va.”
Dedicating Neil Diamond’s “America” to all the veterans in the house, Tony’s iconic voice carries the melody as he sings with pride, and the audience happily joins him on the song’s patriotic “Today!” refrain.
Insisting, “You put your life on the line for America!” Orlando invites veterans from the Korean and Vietnam wars — in addition to veterans and their family members from Desert Storm, Iraq, and Afghanistan — to stand prior to thanking them for a job well done.
Revealing that he’ll soon be inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame along with such storied New Jerseyans as Whitney Houston and Thomas Edison, Orlando tells the crowd about the various New Jersey towns he’s lived in including Union City, Fort Lee, and Hasbrouck Heights, prior to exclaiming, “I owe this state much!”
Confessing that it was the British Invasion of musicians that “put me out of work,” Orlando talks about being hired at Columbia Records by Clive Davis. Charged with signing and developing up-and-coming artists, he worked with Blood, Sweat and Tears, which inspires him to sing a snippet of BS&T’s “Spinning Wheel,” in addition to James Taylor, which has him performing a soulful version of Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” where he passionately sings to his fans, “I always knew you’d be there for me again.”
Tony and keyboardist Kerry Cole share the lead vocal on Prince’s “Purple Rain” before Orlando asks the crowd, “How many here love doo-wop?” When concertgoers respond in the affirmative, he introduces Jersey singer Johnny Patillo, formerly of The Duprees, who sings “You Belong to Me.”
After asking the crowd if they would like to hear more doo-wop, Tony, Johnny, and Jay Siegel perform a medley of Little Anthony and the Imperials’ “Tears on My Pillow,” The Penguins’ “Earth Angel,” and The Rays’ “Silhouettes.”’
“Don’t you just love those beautiful ’50s songs?” asks Tony as Patillo launches into The Marcels’ “Blue Moon” and does an a cappella tribute to the late Larry Chance, performing Chance’s “I Believe” with tears in his eyes.
Tony introduces the audience to Michelle Parto, a singer from Atlantic City, who performs Barbra Streisand’s “People.” He also introduces concertgoers to his nephew, Brian, who joins him on stage to listen as Tony’s brother, David, is featured on Billy Joel’s “Baby Grand.”
To commemorate his final concert here in the Garden State, two of Orlando’s bandmates provide tributes to Tony: Kerry Cole sings Van Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?” with nephew Brian playing the drums, and drummer Tim Pope follows up by performing Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful.”
Following a lively rendition of The Beatles’ “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da,” Tony is featured on a soulful mash-up of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” and “Let it Be.”
Tony and Co. conclude today’s historic performance by playing The Beatles’ “The End,” singing, “And in the end/The love you take/Is equal to the love you make,” at which point Orlando closes the show by saying, “Thank you all,” “God bless you,” and “Thank you for the love you gave!”
To learn more about Tony Orlando, please go to tonyorlando.com. For further info on John Pizzi, please click on johnpizzi.com. For information on future Garden State Arts Foundation concerts at the PNC Bank Arts Center please click on gsafoundation.org.
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