(Broadway and movie star Franc D'Ambrosio sings a duet of "All I Ask Of You" from The Phantom of the Opera with Sherrill's own Audra Cramer during his Nov. 13, 2010 appearance at the Oneida High School)
My daughter Gabrielle is peeved at me.
Obviously, since she is 17 that is pretty much to be expected, but this time it really isn't my fault. All I was trying to do was write an entertaining story about our local Oneida Area Arts Council's latest show, earn some extra cash, and maybe enjoy the Broadway show tunes even though at the time I honestly wasn't all that familiar with the genre.
How was I to know the featured artist would turn out to be Franc D'Ambrosio, formerly renowned as the longest running Phantom of the Opera with 2,600 shows as the masked crooner on Broadway? I try to make as many of the OAAC shows as possible, so it doesn't really matter to me who is there -- I know I can always expect quality entertainment and they never let me down. So I didn't really pay that much attention to who would be on stage before I get there.
I wasn't expecting a family crisis to come from attending the Nov. 13 show. But as I sat there in the center of the front row (thanks for that awesome seat, Linda!) and Franc told the audience of his time in the Phantom show, I immediately knew there would be trouble brewing at home. Gabby is a huge Phantom of the Opera fan, and she wasn't with me at this particular show, so when I heard about his Broadway experience I felt a shudder and squinted involuntarily to the anticipated pain I would incur when she found out. Hey -- maybe now she won't ditch me on the weekend anymore because she'll never know what fun I'll be having that she'll miss!
Anyways, it didn't take long before Franc won me over as well and had me swooning like a schoolgirl myself. You see, Franc had a job before the Phantom -- working on a film in a series that is close to my own heart. Sure, he was the Phantom of the Opera on Broadway for 2,600 shows, but I'll always remember him from his stellar performance as Michael Corleone's son Anthony in The Godfather III. The movie may not have been the jewel of the Godfather trilogy, and maybe most fans prefer to think there were only two of them, but while watching it again the other night I noticed what a great job Franc did in his role. Personally, I think the big name actors in the movie really look worn out and tired, while Franc is upbeat and alive. Check out this clip and tell me you don't agree ...
Of course, after rewatching the movie the other night I really must wonder, was D'Ambrosio's first movie kissing scene that peck with Al Pacino? I'm not making any kind of orientation judgement, mind you, because stuff like that doesn't matter to me. I'm just offering a word to the wise -- if I was going to kiss a guy, it wouldn't be the Godfather. Does the name Fredo ring a bell?
(Franc D'Ambrosio takes us on an autobiographical trip along Broadway)
The special "Franc D'Ambrosio's Broadway" show, part of the OAAC's 46th season of programming, featured Franc telling the tales of his youth through words and song accompanied by his music director Scott Besser on piano. He told of his humble beginnings in a family of bakers ("We were the best smelling family in the neighborhood," he quipped) in the Bronx and how they always had music playing in their bakery.
Franc recalled landing his first Broadway role in a revival of Sweeney Todd, and that performance brought him an invitation to try out for an upcoming film ambiguously called Secret Journal 2 -- a movie that turned out in reality to be The Godfather III, where Franc played opera-singing Anthony Corleone. Anthony's big opera debut finale is even the setting for the traditional Godfather murder montage of revenge, a reprise of similar scenes in the first two films. The Oneida show included Franc crooning "The Immigrant" a/k/a/ “Speak Softly Love” in both English and Italian to thrill us Godfather fans.
“In my neighborhood, people know more about the Corleones than the Obamas,” he told the audience.
Other show tunes included "Yankee Doodle Dandy," "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," and "Mack the Knife," but it was a song from The Phantom of the Opera that brought the audience to their first standing ovation of the evening. Franc preceded the song with the story of how he was auditioning for Miss Saigon when the panel of listeners unanimously agreed he was trying out for the wrong show. He was quickly sent to the audition for the Phantom role. Admittedly "unprepared and unrehearsed," he tried out before the judges with the lyrics written on his hands, he recalled. Those gestures as he read those lyrics helped win over those observers, and Franc got the part.
The Phantom selection that night featured a special guest appearance by Vernon-Verona-Sherrill Central School class of 2005 and Nazareth College class of 2009 graduate Audra Cramer, now living in Queens and pursuing her own musical performance career, as the star and his up-and-coming counterpart gave a heartwarming duet on the Phantom song "All I Ask of You."
(Franc and Audra croon while the audience swoons at the Oneida Area Arts Council-sponsored show)
"This was just awesome and superfun," Audra, who was to celebrate her 24th birthday the following day, said. It was actually making her second time singing with Franc -- they met on stage last year after she won a vocal competition in Utica to appear with him at his appearance at the Stanley Theater.
"She has an amazing, amazing, amazing voice," Franc complimented.
Audra came back after intermission for an encore solo number. The audience that night was filled with Audra's fans and family, including some of the folks who helped her get there.
“I am very proud of Audra for all her accomplishments and that I taught her for six years at VVS,” said her former music teacher Sue Tyler.
OAAC President Tom Donegan admitted they had a little snafu in the behind-the-scenes production that evening. He told the audience Franc not only took it in stride as a true professional, but even worried that someone in the OAAC might lose his or her job over the dilemma. Tom admitted they were all volunteers, so that wasn't likely, but complimented Franc for his compassion for the amateurs.
After the show, Franc met with the audience, signing autographs and chatting with fans old and new. Gregarious and accessible, he graciously shook hands with his well-wishers with a genuine camaraderie that was warm and welcoming to all of the folks at the Oneida appearance. The people might not have been fans when they arrived, like myself, but they certainly were when he left, also like myself.
Franc travels all over the United States and beyond with his two-man show, but he intimated some upcoming plans that will thrill New York City stage musical fans -- within the next couple of years, he expects to be back on Broadway. He didn't say if he intends to try for the Phantom role again or something new, but wherever he ends up it's guaranteed to be a high quality performance from a true professional.
There's still a chance to get in on the fun -- Franc's CD "Franc D'Ambrosio's Broadway" is available from your favorite music vendor, as is his companion disc of Hollywood favorites. Even Barry Manilow has Franc's music on his iPod, so you know it's got to be good.
For more on Franc, check out with Website at http://www.francdambrosio.com/