It’s a gorgeous fall afternoon this Tuesday, September 27, 2022 at Holmdel, NJ’s PNC Bank Arts Center. It’s the perfect setting for a free concert by singer Michael Amante and The Soundtrack of Our Lives featuring stage and screen performers Al Sapienza and Deborah Rennard.
As we make our way backstage before the show, we catch up with Al Sapienza and Deborah Rennard and ask the two movie and TV stars to talk about their early musical experiences and to tell us about the genesis of their live stage act, The Soundtrack of Our Lives.
Best known for his performances on TV's The Sopranos, House of Cards, and Suits, Sapienza — who grew up just over the NJ border in Monsey, NY — explains, “Ever since I was a kid, I've loved music. I can even remember listening to songs like 'Volare' and 'Sealed with a Kiss' when I was just four years old.”
“When I was in the second grade, I saw The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan TV show and begged my father for a drum set. He got me drums the very next day, and for my communion he got me a full set,” recalls Sapienza. “I played the drums every day from 1964 to 1982. I guess it was my way of getting out stress — [laughs] I can even remember making my Italian father watch me play the ‘B side’ of The Beatles’ Abbey Road album in 1969 when I was in the eighth grade!”
“I’d been playing the drums my whole life and became a mentee of the famous disc jockey, Murray the K. He took a liking to me and became like a father to me. He said, ‘You’ve got it, and I’m gonna help you!’ and he helped me audition for Beatlemania on Broadway. Although I wasn’t in the original cast, I was selected for the next cast and I ended up playing the role of Ringo on Broadway for five years.”
“In 1984, I met Deborah in acting school. She was already a star on one of the biggest shows on TV, but everyone else in the class was struggling,” recalls Sapienza, who reveals, “Later on, I heard her voice and said, ‘Come sing with me!’ We started doing songs from Phantom, and I said, ‘Let’s do an act. We’ll both love it.’”
Known primarily for her long-running role as JR Ewing’s secretary, Sly, on TV’s Dallas, Rennard says about her early musical experiences, “I studied for years as a singer and a dancer. I had aspirations to be on Broadway, but then I got on Dallas — which ran for ten years — and then I wanted to get married and have kids. I married a director, who won a few Oscars while we were together, and then I stopped acting. That’s when I started producing and writing.”
“In 2010, I moved to New York City, which is where I reconnected with Al,” recalls Rennard. “We had originally met back in 1984 so I hadn’t seen him in 26 years, but when I reconnected with him, he said, ‘I always get invited to sing at charity events. Why don’t you come sing with me?’ I was actually terrified because I hadn’t sung in front of people in years, but Al said, ‘Oh, stop it!’”
“At first, we started singing together in karaoke rooms. So we were sitting there singing, and Al looked over at me and said, ‘Deb, I’ve been on Broadway and I can tell you — you’re really good!’ Then, he started dragging me around to various charity events, and I’m telling you, I was petrified! The whole time we would be driving, I would be trying to get out of it. I gave him every excuse in the book and he just ignored me, but every time we sang, people would come up and say, ‘Wow! You’re amazing!’”
“People started asking, ‘Where are you guys performing?’ and we’d say, ‘We don’t really have a show,’ but we looked at each other and said, ‘Hmm… maybe we should get one?’” reveals Rennard, explaining, “So we figured out how we could sing all the songs we love and we turned that into a show. It’s gotten bigger and bigger over the years, and I can’t believe we’re actually here right now!”
We make our way out to the PNC Bank Arts Center amphitheater where Garden State Arts Foundation VP Ron Gravino welcomes a crowd of several thousand music lovers to this afternoon’s performance. After thanking the sponsors of this season’s GSAF series of free concert events, Gravino introduces The Soundtrack of Our Lives’ Al Sapienza and Deborah Rennard to the stage.
Sapienza and Rennard open today’s show with their rendition of Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond’s “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.” Accompanied by a quartet of musicians on piano, guitar, bass, and drums, Rennard’s sweet soprano and Sapienzo’s smooth baritone warm the crowd as the couple sings while gazing into each other’s eyes.
Rennard gets the crowd clapping and swaying their arms back and forth in the air as Sapienza croons Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” with style, energy, and dynamics. Rennard sings harmony to Sapienza’s vocal as the crowd spontaneously adds the popular “So good, so good, so good” refrain to the arrangement.
Rennard impresses with her rendition of “I Dreamed A Dream” from Les Miserables, as the breeze picks up and adds even more drama to the song. The crowd cheers, and Rennard announces, “This show is a celebration of the incredible power of music — of how a song can transport you in just three minutes.”
Here, the pair launches into an upbeat interpretation of The Beatles’ “She Loves You” where Sapienza accompanies the duo on guitar as the crowd joins in on the infectious “She loves you/Yeah, yeah, yeah” chorus.
A highlight of the duo’s set is Rennard’s interpretation of “Downtown,” where her vocal channels Petula Clark, she dances on the instrumental interlude, and the audience joins in on the catchy “Downtown” refrain.
Following a duet version of “Somewhere” from West Side Story, Rennard performs a sparkling rendition of the title song from Cabaret.
The audience clearly enjoys experiencing the excitement of a Broadway-caliber performance here in the PNC Bank Arts Center’s breezy outdoor arena.
The duo performs a haunting rendition of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence,” and follows up with another highlight performance of today’s set — Al Sapienza’s soulful and powerful rendition of Neil Diamond’s “Holly Holy” — which brings avid cheers from the audience.
Not to be outdone, Rennard performs an effervescent rendition of Barbra Streisand’s “Don’t Rain on my Parade,” which brings hoots and hollers from the crowd.
Sapienza’s performance of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” has concertgoers singing along on the tune’s famous “Play us a song/You’re the piano man” refrain.
Holding hands, the couple sings directly to one another on “All I Ask of You” from Phantom of the Opera, and Deborah dedicates “The Prayer” “to all the people we lost,” including her beloved father.
Music lovers in the crowd happily “start spreading the news” as they joyfully sing along to Al Sapienza’s dynamic rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.”
Finally, Sapienza and Rennard conclude their set with a upbeat rendition of The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” which has audience members standing and twisting along at their seats.
During a short intermission, we chat with concertgoers who share their opinions of The Soundtrack of Our Lives. Declares Pattie from Brick, “This was the best show I’ve ever seen!” Rita from Monroe Twp. agrees, calling Sapienza and Rennard’s performance, “Absolutely fabulous!” explaining, “They sang perfectly in tandem, and they’re easy on the eyes, too — they’re both very attractive and handsome!”
Marie from Old Bridge exclaims, “Al Sapienza can sing Neil Diamond anytime, anywhere! He’s really good — I enjoyed every song!”
Amanda from Point Pleasant concurs, adding, “I especially loved it when he sang “Holly Holy” — it was wonderful — and when Deborah sang ‘Downtown,’ she sounded just like Petula Clark!”
Lastly, we chat with Esther and Linda from Old Bridge. Whereas Esther reveals, “There wasn’t a song they did that I didn’t like — all of their music brought me back to my youth,” Linda confesses, “We came today to see Michael Amante, but this guy and gal were fabulous,” before concluding, “Bring them back again next year!”
A seven-piece orchestra takes the stage and begins to play as Michael Amante’s dynamic voice fills the amphitheater. Looking handsome in his black velvet jacket with elaborate gold brocade, Amante makes his entrance, his powerful tenor soaring as he croons “Core ‘ngrato (Ungrateful Heart)” in Italian.
After telling the audience to “Grab someone near you for this next song,” Amante sings “More.” Accompanied by piano, keyboard, bass, trumpet, trombone, drums, and percussion, Amante holds out an extremely long note on the song’s coda, impressing music lovers in the crowd who burst into applause.
Asking, “Any Italian ladies here?” Amante announces, “If your name is Maria, this is for you!” prior to capturing the hearts of all of the “Marias” in the audience with his rendition of “Maria” from West Side Story.
Amante introduces singer Marissa Famiglietti who joins him on West Side Story’s “Tonight.”
The singers’ voices meld into one as they transform into WSS lovers Tony and Maria with their tender interpretation of this classic Bernstein/Sondheim composition.
Showing his sensitive side, Amante performs the Eagles’ “Desperado” and follows up with Elvis Presley’s “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You,” the arrangement building to a crescendo which elicits hoots and hollers from concertgoers in the house.
Announcing, “We all need a lot more love. Grab someone and tell them you love them,” Amante performs “Love Changes Everything” from Broadway’s Aspects of Love. This march-like ballad brings cheers and applause along with calls of “Bravo!” from music lovers in the crowd.
Marissa Famiglietti returns to sing “Think of Me” from Phantom of the Opera. Amante joins her mid-song and Famiglietti sings operatic runs in her lovely soprano voice bringing cheers from the audience.
The vocalists follow up with another selection from Phantom, “All I Ask of You,” their operatic voices soaring with round tones.
A highlight of Amante’s set is his and Famiglietti’s rendition of “Music of the Night.” Amante’s voice floats out over the crowd as he sings to Famiglietti who, as Christine, is intoxicated by the sound of his voice.
When Amante’s tenor rests, complete silence fills the amphitheater as the audience savors the glorious power of his voice, drinking in the emotion carried by the vibrations of his instrument as it envelopes members of the crowd who stand with calls of “Bravo!”
Showing his versatility, Amante performs Blood Sweat and Tears’ “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” before dueting with Famiglietti on a touching rendition of “The Prayer.”
Music lovers in the crowd sing along on the “Why, why, why” refrain of Tom Jones’ “Delilah.” Amante talks to the audience about his being a current resident of Florida before performing another highlight of his set, “Nessun Dorma (Let No One Sleep) from Puccini’s Turandot.
Round tones waft over concertgoers who sit with rapt attention to this talented singer whose performance ends with a standing ovation and cries for “More!” from the audience.
To conclude today’s program, Amante serenades his fans with his rendition of “Till” — a perfect ending to a dynamic performance where he sings, “You are my reason to live/All I own I would give/Just to have you adore me/Till the rivers flow upstream/Till lovers cease to dream/Till then I’m yours, be mine.”
As music lovers make their way out of the amphitheater, we chat with several who share their thoughts on today’s show by Michael Amante and Soundtrack of Our Lives. Whereas Joe from Middletown exclaims, “This concert was unbelievable — this is a show I would have happily paid for!” Cathy from Waretown remarks, “I totally enjoyed this performance,” and Sal from Waretown exclaims, “I loved it — I just absolutely loved it!”
Angela from Lakewood calls today’s program, “Absolutely fabulous — magnificent!” and Arlene from Stockholm insists, “The show was great!” Al from Stockholm concurs, adding, “Such beautiful voices — we’re so glad we came,” while Joan from Stockholm reveals, “‘The Prayer’ was beautiful,” and Cathy from Old Bridge agrees, noting, “It was excellent — ‘The Prayer’ was my favorite.”
Jean from Lakewood remarks, “Today’s show was just wonderful,” explaining, “Michael Amante is just magnificent, and Marissa Famiglietti is a beautiful girl with a beautiful voice — she’s fantastic!”
Lillian from Lakewood agrees, contending, “Michael Amante is wonderful — he has such a powerful voice,” and Rita from Bergen asserts, “Michael Amante’s voice came right from the soles of his feet straight into my heart!”
John from Manchester calls today’s performance “Excellent,” declaring, “Michael Amante’s voice — I can’t even describe it!” Carmella from Manchester concurs, recalling, “It brings me back to my childhood. I grew up surrounded by opera singers and I just love it!”
Finally, Denise from Massachusetts confesses, “I was invited to today’s show at the last minute and I was just blown away by the talent on this stage. Michael Amante and Marissa Famiglietti’s voices are beyond beautiful, and hearing the two of them together was like being in heaven!”
As we exit the PNC Bank amphitheater and make our way backstage, we take a moment to chat with singer Marissa Famiglietti who reveals, “It’s always a treat to sing with Michael Amante — we have so much fun together!” before acknowledging, “When we’re performing, we are so connected in the moment.”
Lastly, we chat with Michael Amante, who exclaims, “I love working with Marissa! She’s so talented and flexible. I’ve been singing with her ever since 2007.” Recalling, “I’ve been all over the world and the audience here is like my family — I would sing for them all day long,” Amante concludes by asserting, “This is my home!”
To learn more about Michael Amante, please go to michaelamantemusic.com. For more information on The Soundtrack of Our Lives starring Al Sapienza and Deborah Rennard, please click on facebook.com/SapienzaRennard. For info on future Garden State Arts Foundation events at the PNC Bank Arts Center, please navigate to gsafoundation.org.
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