Wednesday, November 17, 2010


(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

Monday, November 8, 2010

Volunteers help out and inspire

Who would have thought our Oneida-Sherrill Lions Club pancake breakfast fundraiser on Nov. 7, 2010 would be so inspiring and reassuring that there still are great young people out there?

Visualize this moment if you can -- it's 5:30 a.m. on a chilly November Sunday morning as it's time to wake Gabby and Sam up to go to work at the breakfast for their fourth year in a row (and no, I don't force them to go). And would you believe it wasn't just them, but Sam's two Camden High School friends Alisha Merrick and Brandi Robinson as well (I didn't force them to go either)? Truthfully, I couldn't understand the attraction for a couple of teenagers to give up the best part of a Sunday -- not to mention voluntarily get up at that already mentioned 5:30 a.m. -- and work with a group of Lions Club members. Seriously, I'm 46 and I was the youngest member there so it wasn't like they were chilling out with a gang of their peers!

Anyways, whatever Sam told them about the joy of working at the breakfast must have been good because these young ladies showed up the night before for the trip to my place for a pre-pancake breakfast sleepover. Come that Sunday at 5:30 a.m. I witnessed something reserved only for Christmas morning -- all four of the girls bounded right out of bed and were ready to head out the door within an hour! They certainly don't do that for school or church ... 

(Waitress Gabrielle Jaquays, 17, serves a tasty breakfast to fellow Oneida-Sherrill Lions Club volunteer helpers, from left, Alisha Merrick, 16, Samantha Jaquays, 16, and Brandi Robinson, 15, at the club's annual fundraising pancake breakfast on Nov. 7, 2010)

Besides pancake breakfast regulars Gabby and Sam we had another faithful helper teen make his return visit to the event this year -- our dashing dish washer, Dan Musgrove, grandson of Lion John Musgrove. The Vernon-Verona-Sherrill Central School student didn't see many breaks in the action during the seven-hour marathon of soap suds. He kept up a fast pace alongside Granddad in making sure everybody was eating off of clean plates (that's a health code rule, I guess).

(Dan Musgrove, 16, strikes a pose as grandad John Musgrove chuckles as they keep the dishes and utensils spotless at the pancake breakfast) 

The fivesome of Lions member relatives weren't the only teens there, however. Shortly after we got started serving, a quartet of Oneida High School students --Ann DuChene, Candra Connelly, Taylor White, and Tom Holtom -- came out as part of the Oneida-Canastota Leos group (a student version of the Lions Club). They also slaved like dogs delivering plates of food and filling cups of coffee, cleaning and setting tables, and preparing eating utensils.

(From left, Candra Connelly, 16, Tom Holtom, 15, Taylor White, 17, and Ann DuChene, 16, join in the fun of the pancake breakfast serving the crowd of appreciative and hungry diners)

(Here's the whole gang -- but wait, there's more! Even with all of these glowing examples of the helpfulness of youth, the most incredible moment of inspiration was still to come ...)

We are all bustling pretty quick as there wasn't much break in the crowd all morning, when 10-year-old Sierra Bloom comes up to me and asks if she can help us. Her friend Sarah Wayland-Smith, also 10, also offers her assistance as well. So, I'm figuring why not humor this little girls, let them do something easy for the couple of minutes they would be interested before they decided it wasn't for them. Whoa -- was I wrong! These two young spitfires started cleaning tables, serving breakfasts, and even pouring hot coffee. I watched amazed, knowing that the future of community service in Central New York was in good hands!

(Sarah Wayland-Smith, left, and Sierra Bloom came out of nowhere at the pancake breakfast as our surprise volunteers -- hustling around the tables and leaving us older folks in their dust)

 (There was no stopping these 5th-graders ... they cleaned tables, served plates of pancakes and sausage, and even poured hot coffee without spilling a drop!)

Seriously, we Lions are getting on in the years, so we couldn't do it without the able-bodied assistance of all of our young helpers. Here's some big kudos for all of our helpers! Hope to see you again next year!

(And Dan had the most important job of them all -- finishing off the leftovers!)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Doing the Time Warp again

One of my fondest college memories is thinking back to our regular outings to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show -- the theater across the street from St. Bonaventure University played it every weekend for just about the whole four years I was there. Now that Gabby is college-bound herself in less than a year, I figured it was a good time to introduce her to some of the other stuff you need to know before you head off to higher education ... namely, indispensable knowledge like what props to bring to the Rocky Horror theater, when to say your lines, and most importantly, how to do The Time Warp.

Anyone who has never seen the film in a theater filled with rabid fans -- and it is definitely not the same as seeing it at home on your TV, unless you are willing to trash your place -- might not understand, so let me give you a little background. The Rocky Horror Picture Show came out in 1975 and stars Tim Curry as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, Susan Sarandon as Janet Weiss, and Barry Bostwick as Brad Majors. The movie was a huge flop at first and, in all honesty, it really is a stupid flick. But that is all part of the fun, as the film evolved over the years into one of the biggest cult classics ever, and a movie that now brings the audience along for the wild ride as moviegoers have added their own lines to the script. Any time a character pauses, someone in the audience will yell out their own line that gives the actor's next phrase a whole new, and usually nasty, meaning. They also bring along some bizarre props and dress in crazy costumes to augment their own enjoyment of the movie, along with everyone else's around them.

(Gabby and I dress in our Halloween finest for a night at the theater)

The shopping list for attending the film is pretty odd: you need items like rice, newspaper, a squirt gun or reasonable facsimile, toast, toilet paper rolls, and noise makers. This year there were even raw hot dogs on the menu; I don't know who came up with that, but that's part of the fun of the film -- and it's always changing.

The movie is rated R but most of what you see in it is now readily accessible on daytime television. On the other hand, the mostly-college student crowd's lines were pretty racy for this family-friendly blog (Gabby commented afterwards, "There was a lot of profanity in there!" I did notice she was giggling at most of it, though) but I'll try to capture the essence of the experience without losing my own G rating.

The interactive fun starts almost immediately, as a wedding scene sees a couple walk out of the church into a crowd of rice-throwing friends. The audience as well starts throwing their own rice. I had rice in my shoes, down my collar, and in my ear by the time the scene was over. Shortly afterwards, there's a rain storm and Brad and Janet's car breaks down. When Janet takes out a newspaper and puts it over her head, everyone playing along does the same.

(Gabby and I won't be bothered by the storm as long as we have our newspaper rain bonnets)

And don't think those newspapers don't come in handy, especially for the bald-headed (although looking around at all of the college-aged people there, I think I was the only bald audience member since I was the oldest person there). Those squirt guns came out at the same time, and the entire theater was deluged by a raging indoor typhoon.

(I can't imagine what it was like to clean up after this night at the movies)

Once Brad and Janet find a castle to seek sanctuary, they find it full of weirdo characters like Frank-N-Furter and his servants Riff-Raff and Magenta. The hero and heroine walk in during an odd dance ritual, as the gang does what they call "The Time Warp" and the audience jumps right up to join them. And it doesn't matter if the crowd is familiar with the steps, because the technique is explained in detail during the scene for the new people.

(This movie doesn't just keep the audience on the edge of their seats, but gets them right out of them and on their feet to do the Time Warp)

Oddly, this wasn't Gabby's first Time Warp experience -- her drama club at the Camden High School recently did a performance of macabre shorts, and she and I actually danced in the aisles during the show. So we are old hats at the Time Warp moves -- made all that much more complicated thanks to the slippery slime of water and rice and who-knows-what-else under our feet.

(It's just a jump to the left and then a step to the right ... or is it a step to the left and a jump to the right ... whatever; the theater is full of drunk college students so nobody cares)

Kudos to the Hamilton Theater and Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y. for keeping my Rocky Horror viewing tradition alive for me some (cough) two decades after those college days and creating new memories for my progeny. We'll be back next year, and we can't wait to see what new fun the fans have come up by then!