The new performing arts center provided wonderful experience
From the outset, the recent El Dorado Community Concert sported a recurring theme – “Welcome Home.”
For the Community Concert organization, which has announced that this would be its final year after 81 seasons of presenting a variety of musical genres to the El Dorado community, it was a homecoming to its familiar concert site – the newly remodeled Performing Arts Center (formerly El Dorado Middle School).
The conversion from a middle school auditorium to a performing arts center made for a wonderful concertgoing experience.
Multitalented singer Franc D’Ambrosio, who also played during the 2005-06 season, was the choice to “christen” the new venue.
And, just as he did in 2005, D’Ambrosio charmed the appreciative audience with a musical journey through a place very familiar to him – Broadway.
The show began with D’Ambrosio’s seemingly ceaseless energy with “Almost Like Being in Love,” from Lerner and Loewe’s “Brigadoon,” followed by Rosemary Clooney’s hit “Botch-A-Me.”
Aside from a rare exception, every song D’Ambrosio performed was one familiar to his audience, which only served to enhance the concert experience.
The concert was capped by – naturally – a tribute to his most famous stage role – the title role of “Phantom of the Opera.” He has performed that role in more than 2,600 performances, and so it served as the quintessential way to close the concert.
D’Ambrosio hasn’t been limited to the stage, however. He performed the theme from “The Godfather” (“Speak Softly Love”) as Anthony Corleone (Michael Corleone’s son) in “The Godfather: Part III” (1990) and made that part of his El Dorado concert. He also was selected by Barry Manilow for the lead role of Tony in the pre-Broadway tour when Manilow’s song “Copacabana” became a musical.
D’Ambrosio listed the arias he sang in “The Godfather: Part III” were some of the most challenging for him.
“It was written for a vocal type – I was 27 – I shouldn’t have sang that until I was 47,” he said, saying a more mature voice could have handled those better. “But I recorded it very well, and we got the Academy Award nomination for that, so it worked out well.”
Earlier, he paid tribute to radio with a medley of “Mack The Knife,” “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” “Hey There” and “What Kind of Fool Am I?” The medley treatment also worked for salutes to the Ziegfeld Follies (including Irving Berlin’s “A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody” – which turns 100 years old in 2019 – paired with George Gershwin’s “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” from “George White’s Scandals”).
An emotional highlight of the evening was the plaintive “Bring Him Home,” from “Les Miserables.” It was hard not to get choked up as D’Ambrosio – just as he did in 2005 – slowly and methodically expressing Jean Valjean’s prayer for the safety of his daughter’s lover. The light touch D’Ambrosio uses heightens its dramatic effect.
But just as sudden, D’Ambrosio gives a jaunty version of the song “Be Italian,” from “Nine,” a movie that paid tribute to Italian director Federico Fellini and was a Broadway smash. Being Italian himself, D’Ambrosio performed the song with swagger and bravado.
The best of Broadway was also on display as D’Ambrosio sang “The Impossible Dream” from “Man of La Mancha,” which benefited from the enhanced acoustics of the renovated building.
He closed the first half with “Danny Boy,” a song that was familiar to all in attendance. However, D’Ambrosio added to the experience by explaining the context of the song, which probably was new to everyone. The song (“The Irish had ‘crying and dying’ songs,” D’Ambrosio said, as opposed to the upbeat songs of Italians) was from a father to his son leaving on the ships, and that the “pipes” were the method used to call the boys, D’Ambrosio told the audience.
The songs were positioned to cover a vast array of ages in the community concert audience. Some were born in the glamorous era of Broadway of the 1930s and ‘40s, while younger ones gravitated more toward “Phantom” or many from the 1950s to the 1990s on, like those in D’Ambrosio’s tribute to Broadway legend Bob Fosse.
This featured “Just in Time” (“Bells Are Ringing”), “Steam Heat,” (“Pajama Game”), “Corner of the Sky” (“Pippin”), “How to Succeed”/”I Believe in You” (“How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”), “Heart” (“Damn Yankees”), “Razzle Dazzle” (“Chicago”), “If They Could See Me Now” (“Sweet Charity”) and “The Other Side of the Tracks” (“Little Me”).
Even though the common thread was Fosse, the songs demanded a quick change in tempo and emotion, even though they also had the commonality of positivity.
Just as in 2005, D’Ambrosio displayed his deft versatility and provided an incomparable show for the appreciative El Dorado audience.
The talent certainly hasn’t waned one iota since D’Ambrosio’s last appearance in El Dorado.
““I always say that if you take care of your voice and you sing the repertoire, when you sing the songs that are healthiest for your voice, you can sing for a very, very long time,” said D’Ambrosio, 56.
“And, of course, my job has always to do the best I can to give an opening-night performance every single night.”
He said he was thrilled to be selected to debut the Performing Arts Center.
“It’s an honor,” D’Ambrosio said. “For a performer to be an inaugurative performance in a theater is one of the highest honors we can have.”
Even the seats are nice, he said.
“The seats are the same, but they’re so comfortable,” D’Ambrosio said. “I had an opportunity to sit in them.”
Overall, the new look is very nice, D’Ambrosio said.
“It offers the best of what used to be and has upgraded the things that are necessary, like the wider aisles and the beautiful backstage, the acoustics and everything else you have going. And that piano – that gorgeous, gorgeous Steinway piano – is the best,” he said.
“I would encourage everyone to come and see a show (here) – they’ll be hooked forever.”
Part of what D’Ambrosio has been involved in since his last El Dorado performance has been a show where he performed with three others who played the Phantom – Brent Barrett, Ciaran Sheehan and Marcus Lovett – with the men saluting the iconic musical work and other highlight moments of Broadway.
“’The Four Phantoms’ is enjoying the beginnings of a new national tour,” D’Ambrosio said. “We’ll be doing a PBS special for that as well.”
The songs of “Phantom” retain a special place in his heart, D’Ambrosio said.
“They’re stories,” he said. “I get back into the character of the Phantom.”
Touring is a big part of D’Ambrosio’s life, he said.
“I do about 100 concerts a year,” D’Ambrosio said, “North America, South America, China, (and) a lot in Europe.”
But the tour beckoned again, and D’Ambrosio was headed back home to New York – but only for a little while.
El Dorado won’t have to wait long for the second show in the Community Concert series. The quartet Sons of Serendip, featuring versatility of voice and instrumental talent, will be taking the Performing Arts Center stage Nov. 1 at 7 p.m.