STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
After recently presenting concerts celebrating the music of Carole King, the Philly POPS will now take on the songs of Billy Joel.
Michael Cavanaugh from the musical “Movin’ Out” and guest conductor Jack Everly (Music Director of the National Memorial Day Concert and “A Capitol Fourth” on PBS) join forces with the Philly POPS for “The Music of Billy Joel” March 4-6 at the Kimmel Center.
“Movin’ Out,” which was based on Joel’s fertile songbook, ran for more than three years on Broadway and earned Cavanaugh Tony and Grammy nominations. He was handpicked by Joel himself to be the lead “piano man” in the show.
In a phone interview, Cavanaugh shared that although he got a personal endorsement from Joel to cast him in “Movin’ Out,” he still had to pass a dance audition for iconic choreographer Twyla Tharp.
“I was very green to the whole process. I didn’t realize how intense she was until I started working with her. A lot of people auditioned to be my understudy,” he said.
Cavanaugh’s five-piece rock band will also be on stage for the three Philly POPS concerts that will traverse Joel’s 43-year career.
Cavanaugh — who also goes on the road performing Elton John, “The Music of the Great Singer/Songwriters” and “Rockin’ Christmas with the Pops” songbook concerts — was even once joined on stage by Joel during a 2001 performance in Las Vegas after the six-time Grammy winner witnessed him performing his song “Piano Man.”
“Trust me, I’ve been in front of tough audiences,” he said, sharing a large slice of the selections from “The Music of Billy Joel.” Among them: “Pressure,” “New York State of Mind,” “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant,” “Uptown Girl,” “River of Dreams,” “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song),” “Angry Young Man,” “Just the Way You Are” and “Goodnight Saigon.”
The throwback vocal harmony hit “For the Longest Time” shows up as part of a medley. “The orchestra plays a quick intro. (into “The Longest Time”). There’s not a lot of rock ‘n’ roll bands that can sing a cappella, but mine can. The orchestra joins us, and we do the next song — ‘Keeping the Faith’,” Cavanaugh said. “It’s amazing; it’s a big sound. You’ll hear a song in a way you haven’t before.”
Cavanaugh, a Cleveland native who calls Henderson, NV home, gave a lot of credit to Everly and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra for arranging Joel’s music for orchestra. “They put me on the map. They had seen me on Broadway numerous times, and thankfully they liked it,” he said.
Before each concert there will be a conversation in the Kimmel Center’s Commonwealth Plaza, featuring Cavanaugh in an up-close-and-personal setting, followed by a performance by Rock to the Future — a POPS in Schools initiative which brings supplemental music education to Philadelphia public schools. Rock to the Future provides free music education for more than 300 Philadelphia children at no cost to them or their families.
Also joining in the fun is Philadelphia radio station Classic Rock 102.9 WMGK. A “Big Shot” contest winner will be channeling their inner Michael Cavanaugh before adoring Billy Joel fans in the Kimmel Center lobby before the
March 4 Philly POPS performance. WMGK and Philly POPS staffers have narrowed down the field of entries to five finalists, all of whom will receive a pair of Philly POPS tickets.
WMGK listeners were encouraged to vote at www.wmgk.com for their favorite performer finalist. The winning contestant will be determined by a combination of who receives the most votes and scoring by a judging panel.
The winning contestant receives 10 tickets to the Philly POPS March 4 concert, dinner for two, the chance to have a portion of their performance played on WMGK and the pre-show performance party slot.
WMGK Promotion Director Dan Fein commented in an email on Feb. 16: “We are very happy with the quality of entries we’ve received so far. There’s some really great singers and players that have submitted. It’s really a testament to Billy Joel’s timeless songs, and the anticipation of what the POPS amazing musicians will do with them. It’s going to be hard narrowing down the field to five finalists and then to one overall winner. It’s great to see that the opportunity to perform in the legendary Kimmel Center lobby prior to the POPS has really ignited the imaginations and creativity of our listeners.”
IF YOU GO
What: The Philly POPS’ “The Music of Billy Joel.”
When: 8 p.m. March 4, 3 p.m. March 5-6.
Where: Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center, 300 S. Broad St., Philadelphia.
Info.: Visit www.phillypops.org.