It’s a beautiful late-summer day at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ this Wednesday, September 4, 2019 as thousands of music lovers stream in for a free afternoon concert presented by the Garden State Arts Foundation. Starring the world-famous ’60s music idol, Bobby Rydell, today’s show will also feature comedian John Pizzi of TV’s America’s Got Talent fame.
As the clock strikes 1:30 pm, Ron Gravino, VP of the Garden State Arts Foundation, takes the stage to welcome the crowd to today’s free concert — the last in a series for NJ residents aged 55 and over which, in its 2019 season, already featured such illustrious artists as Tony Orlando, The Doo Wop Project, and Little Anthony and the Imperials.
Gravino thanks the sponsors of today’s show — Live Nation Entertainment and PNC Bank, among others — before introducing the crowd to the Executive Director of the Garden State Arts Foundation, Cookie Santiago, exclaiming, “She’s the best!”
Gravino informs the crowd that today’s show will be the final performance in the Garden State Arts Foundation’s concerts for 2019 because after 51 years, the center will undergo renovations in the Fall.
Gravino introduces the packed house to two special guests who are in attendance today — baseball giants Ed Kranepool of the NY Mets and Roy White of the NY Yankees — as a live 10-piece band plays “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
White jokes that their appearance is “one of the few times when you’ll get to see a Met and a Yankee together!”
The crowd applauds for both legendary ball players.
Concert promoter Rob Albanese introduces this afternoon’s opening act — comedian John Pizzi. Pizzi — a stand-up comic and ventriloquist — takes the stage performing several magic tricks and telling jokes to large guffaws.
Pizzi introduces the audience to his “baby in a box” — his dummy, Dakota — who proceeds to make fun of people in the crowd to the audience’s delight. Although some might consider Dakota’s comments somewhat inappropriate given they are based on the age, appearance, and nationality of specific audience members, the humor is presented in such a way that it makes fun of literally everyone so as not to offend anyone.
Pizzi’s second character is Uncle Smiley, a bitter old coot who plays off of Dakota’s observations as he continues to insult the crowd.
Finally, Pizzi introduces the audience to Andy, a lovable bad boy with a no-holds-barred response to anything going on around him.
Pizzi has the crowd in stitches with his rapid fire repartee before ending his show with a “human baby.” Here, he selects Joey, a volunteer from the audience, to come onstage and be dressed by Pizzi in a specially-designed baby outfit.
He also gives Joey a special “big mouth” that is manipulated by Pizzi.
Joey is especially cooperative and funny, and he and Pizzi even do a special impromptu dance at the end of his portion of the show.
The crowd cheers for Pizzi, and during the show’s brief intermission, we chat with the “human baby,” Joey from Hazlet.
When asked how he enjoyed being a part of today’s show, Joey — in reality, a musician — says, “I thoroughly enjoyed it,” joking, “I asked John Pizzi if I could go out on the road with him.”
Adding, “John Pizzi was fantastic — you couldn’t not enjoy it; he was so funny” Joey concludes by stating, “He’s absolutely one of the best comedians out there — he’s got them all beat.”
Another audience member, Helen from Manalapan, agrees adding, “John Pizzi is the best. He’s the top of the cake. We come to all the shows here, and I’ve never laughed so much in my life. I wasn’t insulted at all — he was so funny!”
We also get a chance to chat with John Pizzi himself who says, “This was a great audience. I never know how far I can go, but this crowd was great.”
Continuing, “I do old school humor — kinda like Don Rickles,” Pizzi explains, “A lot of people don’t remember Rickles, but one thing I learned from him is you can’t insult one group unless you insult them all,” before concluding, “It’s like I always say — ‘You can lose a lot of things but you can’t lose your sense of humor.’ You have to let go, enjoy life, and don’t take things so seriously!”
At the conclusion of the intermission, musicians take the stage and begin to play an instrumental version of “Volare” as today’s featured artist is introduced with the words, “Ladies and Gentlemen — Bobby Rydell!”
Rydell takes the stage looking sharp in his white blazer and opens with his 1962 Top 5 hit, “Wild One,” singing with style as the audience happily sings and claps along.
His voice sounding as great as ever, Bobby segues into his 1962 Top Ten hit, “The Cha-Cha-Cha.”
Before taking a seat on a stool in front of the orchestra, Rydell has the audience giggling as he instructs his guitar player to adjust the stool for him, at times having him move it just inches in various directions. Then, he asks his guitarist-turned-waiter for a glass of water while providing him with a dinner order for after the show.
Rydell reveals to the audience that he is the recipient of a new liver and kidney which came from a 21-year-old donor.
Acknowledging his donor “saved six other people’s lives as well,” Rydell makes a plea for audience members to “please consider becoming an organ donor,” explaining, “It truly is the gift of life.”
Rydell reveals that his next number was written especially for him by composer Tony Hatch — well known for creating such Petula Clark hits as “Call Me” and “I Know a Place.” Recalling that the song was originally released as a “45 rpm record,” Rydell jokes, “Remember those?”
When the audience replies in the affirmative, Rydell launches into a rousing rendition of his 1964 Top 5 hit, “Forget Him.”
The smooth horns guide the vocal line as they accompany Rydell’s voice and crescendo with panache.
Rydell tells the audience that he happens to be a character in the motion picture, The Green Book, that won Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards. In the film, actor Von Lewis portrays a young Bobby Rydell when he performed at the Copacabana club in New York City in 1962.
Rydell goes on to perform a song from the movie, “That Old Black Magic,” his rich baritone filling the amphitheater and eliciting cheers, whistles, and cries of “Bravo!” from the crowd.
Revealing how much he loves big band music, Rydell also tells a story about a time when, as a young man, he got to meet Frank Sinatra. Announcing, “I’d like to do a Sinatra chestnut for you,” he launches into a stellar rendition of “I’ve Got the World on a String.”
Singing with ease and power and backed by the swinging sound of the big band behind him, Rydell wows the thousands in attendance this afternoon with his classy interpretation.
Following great applause, Rydell goes on to explain that this next song — a hit for him in 1960 — was also recorded by Dean Martin and even more recently by Michael Buble.
Pointing out, “I was the one with the biggest hit!” the audience soon finds out why as Rydell impresses with an upbeat version of “Sway,” his full, resonant baritone compelling couples to dance in the aisles.
From his seat on a stool in front of the orchestra, Rydel performs an artful interpretation of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” featuring a lyrical trombone solo and solid rhythm section playing from the band.
The audience cheers, and Rydell tells the crowd, “You are wonderful — thank you ever so much,” before moving on to a dynamic medley of Bobby Darin tunes including “Somewhere Beyond the Sea” and “Mack the Knife.”
The audience claps and sings along as the horns crescendo in contrast to Rydell’s smooth vocal style which is accented with “heys” and “hets” to rhythmic drum kicks. The crowd cheers and applauds at the end as one excited fan shouts out “Terrific!”
Taking time to chat with the audience, Rydell — whose given name is Roberto Luigi Ridarelli — tells stories and jokes about growing up in the Italian section of South Philly.
After acknowledging the talented musicians accompanying him today, Rydell concludes his set with a true highlight of this afternoon’s program. Never sounding better, he performs his 1960 Top Five gold record, “Volare.” The audience sings along, taps their toes, and bops their heads with gusto before rewarding Rydell with a warm standing ovation.
As members of the crowd filter out of the PNC Bank Arts Center amphitheater, we chat with several members of the audience who share their opinions of this afternoon’s performance.
Comments Rosemarie from Point Pleasant, “Bobby Rydell was excellent! His voice sounded so strong — it was fantastic.”
Phil from Point Pleasant agrees adding, “The show was great — and John Pizzi was a pleasant surprise!”
Stuart from Hazlet contends, “John Pizzi was funny — he got your attention and kept it — and Bobby Rydell? I liked him so much I wanted another encore!”
Dorothy from Hazlet concurs adding, “John Pizzi was hysterical. I’m not sure he was always appropriate, but I couldn’t stop laughing — I thought he was great,” before noting, “And Bobby Rydell’s voice is so strong, when I closed my eyes, it sounded like young Bobby, and I also loved how he sang one great song after another.”
Linda from Manchester remarks, “Bobby Rydell was excellent. He brought back so many memories. As I was listening, I could remember who I was with when I heard those songs for the very first time.”
Lillian from Manchester agrees adding, “The music really does awaken a lot of old memories — it was wonderful.”
Lastly, Anna from Manchester comments, “I liked everything about Bobby Rydell — his songs, his personality. He has such a great voice, and I love how he relates to the crowd and brings the audience right into his act. To tell you the truth, I can’t wait to see him again!”
To learn more about Bobby Rydell, please click on bobbyrydell.com. For more info on John Pizzi, go to johnpizzi.com. For information on future Garden State Arts Foundation concerts, please go to gsafoundation.org.