"The Music of Billy Joel and More featuring Michael Cavanaugh"
Cloning human beings has always been a heated point for debate in countries around the world and, since 2001, countless bills have been formulated in Congress in an attempt to ban the practice in the United States.
Nonetheless, Billy Joel seems to have found a way around the controversy, if not the law. Cloning -- in fact, cloning with enhancements -- is the only possible answer that can explain the existence of the young artist known as Michael Cavanaugh who appears to be, for all intents and purposes, a younger, hipper, and yet still classically personable clone of the Piano Man himself.
For those of you who have never heard the name Michael Cavanaugh, you are missing out. Although he has been playing the piano since the age of seven, he actually got his first true professional gig as a dueling piano player at a foregone bar you may remember called "Blazing Pianos" in Orlando -- a city which he still refers to as one of his homes. He was eventually offered the opportunity to perform at the New York, New York Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
One fateful night, Billy Joel (who had heard about the up-and-comer) decided he wanted to see Cavanaugh perform live. As Cavanaugh tells it, when he first found out from his idol’s agent that Joel was actually coming to meet him and see him play, he was driving, and nearly drove off the road. Though he had only intended to stay for a short while, Joel was so impressed with Cavanaugh that he ended up joining him on stage for an hour-long performance.
In the end, Joel was convinced that he had found the star of the Broadway Show he had in the works-the legendary "Movin’ Out". Cavanaugh played in the show for three years, giving over 1200 performances and eventually earning himself both a Grammy and a Tony award.
Although harried from arriving late, from the moment we began listening to this particular performance, all tension melted away and was replaced by a child-like enthusiasm that I haven’t felt in some time. Between, "She’s Got A Way," "Crocodile Rock," and "River of Dreams" the entire audience seemed infused with the energy of a horde of children in an endless candy shop -- and that was all BEFORE the intermission.
In the second half, when he brought out some of the heavy hitters including, "Uptown Girl" and "New York State of Mind", the energy spreading between the stage and the crowd became ever more intoxicating. During "Just the Way You Are," couples of all ages could be seen squeezing each other’s hands -- some even with slightly moistened eyes.
A large part of what created this atmosphere was Cavanaugh himself. He had a human element to him that we so often find lacking in seasoned Rock Gods these days, despite how personable they may be. Watching him bob his head or tap his foot to the music to keep time -- as opposed to an artist who has been playing forever and doesn’t even need to think about what he’s doing -- showed his own fallibility and thus the fact that he was even more relatable to the everyman.
Furthermore, his tendency to invite audience participation in songs, introduce comical anecdotes between sets, and simply glow with a pearly white smile and lyrical laughter constantly, turned him into the ultimate entertainer; something I can’t help but think that his mentor, Billy Joel, would be especially proud of. My personal favorite quip of the night was occurred when Cavanaugh declared, "I am proud to announce that 100 percent of the proceeds from tonight’s performance will be going to...me!"
Closing with the all-time classic, "Piano Man," Cavanaugh took a bow, and the standing ovation he received appeared to make the theater shake, between the overwhelming applause and cheering from the audience. He exited the stage and after a reasonable amount of time passed during which the audience remained shouting, "Brava!" he returned and played an encore performance of "Old Time Rock ’N Roll."
The audience went wild and when Cavanaugh and this time his band attempted to exit the stage, something unexpected happened. The crowd refused to disperse. In fact, they not only didn’t move, they got louder: clapping and cheering for such an extended period of time that finally John Scarpulla, the sax player -- the last remaining band member on the stage who was standing near the curtain -- shrugged his shoulders and made a sort of resigned motion towards the other side of the stage.
Cavanaugh then reappeared once more and the crowd, unbelievably, got even more boisterous. With his dashing and still yet boyishly excited smile, Cavanaugh agreed to play one more song even though it was totally unplanned and then told Scarpulla, who had urged him back out in the first place, that "I won’t tell you what song it is, but you might want to grab your tenor sax." With that, he began playing "Only the Good Die Young" and the audience stayed on its feet, clapping and shouting out the chorus for the entire song.
I have covered many different kinds of concerts before, some of which even succeeded in producing double-encores, but this particular occurrence struck a chord with me. Not only because the playing was phenomenal, the star was endlessly charming and a true entertainer, or because no one in either the band or the orchestra botched even a single note, but because it was a performance that captured the hearts and minds of the over two thousand patrons in attendance from ages five to 95.
After the show, I had the opportunity to briefly interview Mr. Cavanaugh and his humble answers to my questions only further served to instill the image of this promising, young, and enthusiastic performer being wholly approachable. When I asked how it felt to be referred to as a younger, hipper clone of Billy Joel, he first laughed but then shook his head saying that while it was a great compliment, there would never be another Billy as far as he was concerned.
As to where he wanted his career to go from here: more Broadway performances, symphony accompaniments, CD recordings, or even live shows, filling arenas? He desires all of the above, minus the arenas. While he acknowledged that playing at arenas is fun, some of the things you have to deal with to get to that point seem less so, dealing with the paparazzi in particular. As he sees it, he seems to have found a sweet spot of fame, right in between invisible and impossible to miss, and he is content to stay there for as long as he can.
Five out of five stars for a truly extraordinary performance by both a phenomenal orchestra, a brilliant band and a star who may one day have a following -- whether he likes it or not -- to rival the original Piano Man himself.
"The Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra Presents The Music of Billy Joel and More Featuring Michael Cavanaugh" plays through January 28 at The Bob Carr Performing Arts Center, 401 West Livingston Street, Orlando, FL 32801. For more information, visit the //www.orlando-theatre.com/theaters/bob-carr-performing-arts-centre/theater.php: The Bob Carr Performing Arts Center’s website.