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Vegas headliner Frankie Moreno shakes up Carnegie Hall

By John Katsilometes

October 22nd, 2018

NEW YORK — The song is so familiar, but what it inspires is a moment new to Carnegie Hall. “Stand By Me,” the classic from Ben E. King, is the tune and Frankie Moreno the singer. “If you’re here with someone you love,” Moreno directs, “it’s time to get up and dance.” And everywhere, all around, groovers arise. There are same-sex couples and young couples, those from differing cultures and those who certainly have been married for decades, all swaying and smiling. A man seated at my right who sees all of the shows at Carnegie Hall stands, too. He watches this scene unfold and steals a few shots from his cell phone. “This never happens here,” he says. “I’ve never seen it before.”

This is the night Las Vegas dances with New York. Moreno’s coupling with the New York Pops was aptly titled, “Roll Over, Beethoven: A Different Kind Of Orchestra.” The blend of familiar rock ’n’ roll songs and Moreno originals is headed up by revered conductor Steve Reineke, celebrating his 10th year as music director. The performance is also the Pops’ season opener, a significant social event in Midtown Manhattan. “I wanted to show that we are really a different kind of orchestra,” Reineke would say at the post-performance reception. “Frankie was perfect to send that message.”

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But you don’t just show up at Carnegie Hall with a shiny suit, a Gibson and a resume and expect to headline. Reineke, originally hired by the N.Y. Pops after an exhaustive two-year search, learned of Moreno through violin great Joshua Bell (who was seated a half-dozen seats to my right at Friday’s show). Bell and Moreno met about a decade ago at Rush Lounge at the Golden Nugget on night after Bell appeared with the Las Vegas Philharmonic at Ham Hall. Bell later invited Moreno to play Hollywood Bowl in the summer of 2014. And, Bell’s manager, the musician/conductor/music executive David Lai, brings in guest stars at such great halls as Carnegie and Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Moreno’s show cuts a similar path as his previous performing-arts center appearances across the country. He arrives in a black-sequined shirt and jacket, flaunting the sort of Vegas flair the audience expects, and says, “I can’t believe I’m actually onstage at Carnegie Hall … in sequins.” The crowd is peppered with members of Moreno’s Las Vegas fan club, about 100 in all. The total count from Vegas is about 200 around the theater, shouting as if they are at a sporting event and even — to the anguish of Carnegie Hall ushers — holding up LED-lettered signs reading “FM Army” and “King of Vegas.”

Fittingly, Frankie Moreno Fan Club co-founders Kathy Cornelius andGeorgia Yeager first saw Moreno at Carnegie Hall during his performance at “Let’s Be Frank,” a Sinatra tribute show in 2015 (Cornelius’s son is the lighting director at Stern Auditorium). This is the place where the self-proclaimed “FM Army,” which has built a database of tens of thousands of fans, was launched.

The orchestra envelops Moreno’s Las Vegas backing band of his brother Tony Moreno on bass, Alec Zeilon on guitar, Mike Zerbe on drums and the horn section of Fabricio Bezerra, Pete Bresciana and Jim D’Arrigo. Moreno’s backing singers, Crystal Robinson, Ashley Kellough and Markevius Faulkner complete Moreno’s tight-knit stage lineup.

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Those who have seen Moreno perform at venues around Vegas, and even at such famed locales as Hollywood Bowl, are struck by the lush, layered sound emanating from the stage. There is scant augmentation at the hallowed hall, just a single microphone set high above the middle of the hall, and one bank of speakers over the performers. Carnegie Hall, no surprise, is not where you find technical gimmickry (and forget such accepted live-entertainment devices as LED screens or pyrotechnic effects). The Hall will always serve as a celebration of pure artistry, live from the stage.

That artistry is open to a pair of pro dancers — Moreno’s partner and choreographer, Lacey Schwimmer, and Serge Onik. The duo races down the aisles for “Great Balls of Fire” and “Jump, Jive An’ Wail.” Schwimmer later says, “It’s rare for a dancer to be able to take the stage at Carnegie Hall, so it was pretty surreal. It was one of those moments, standing there, and wondering if it’s real, if it’s happening.”

Moreno calls out to Bell during the characteristically soaring cover of “Eleanor Rigby,” which the two recorded in 2009 for the “Joshua Bell & Friends” album. Moreno hits the mark with the spirited “Moonlight Matinee,” and rollicking “45,” and the show-closing medley of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Elvis’ “Jailhouse Rock” and Jerry Lee Lewis’ blistering”Wild One.”

Accepted Carnegie Hall protocol has been shed, as Moreno spins around and plays the hall’s Steinway & Sons grand piano (retail price: $250,000) backward, then sits across the keys. Schwimmer shakes it up with a laughing Reineke as he attempts to guide the orchestra to the finish line, and the horn section doubles over while blaring the final notes. “I tried to perform something that hadn’t been performed before at Carnegie Hall,” Moreno says. “We wanted a lot of ‘firsts’ at this show.”

Whether Moreno is invited back seems only a matter of when, and what type of production — N.Y. Pops does not play the same show twice. But the crowd wanted more of that vibe. The folks at Carnegie Hall are not done dancing.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.


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FRANKIE MORENO AND THE BSO POPS BRING A TOUCH OF VEGAS MAGIC TO BALTIMORE 

By Randy Shulman

April 5th, 2018

Frankie Moreno isn’t your typical Vegas headliner. Not content with playing the expected variety of pop standards, the energetic 40-year-old brings a fair share of originals to the mix.

“I grew up being a songwriter, so playing other peoples’ music was always strange to me,” says Moreno, a three-time Vegas Headliner of the Year winner. “I’m not gonna sing an Elvis song better than Elvis Presley did or Bobby Darin song better than Bobby Darin, so why try? Why not do my own?”

Still, Moreno, who has had his own PBS special and has appeared on Dancing with the Stars, recognizes that audiences want to hear a smattering of hits. So, when he performs with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra next weekend, he’ll trot out a few crowd pleasers, including “Roll Over, Beethoven,” “Stand By Me,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and “Eleanor Rigby,” which he originally recorded with his friend, virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell.

Don’t expect Moreno to get on a political soapbox between numbers. “When you’re paying to see my show, you don’t need to hear my opinions,” he says. “You don’t need to hear my thoughts on Donald Trump or the Pope or even food choices. My job is to make you forget all your problems.”

Aiding him in that quest will be his 10-piece show band, giving the evening extra zing. “It’s a big, powerful sound,” he says. “When the band and the orchestra are focused and playing together, there’s nothing really better musically.”

And expect the show — “Vegas Nights” — to live up to its name. “We’re Vegas, so we definitely dress Vegas,” he says. “Everyone’s sparkly.”

“Vegas Nights with Frankie Moreno” is Thursday, April 12, at 8 p.m. Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda. Also Friday, April 13 and Saturday, April 14, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, April 15, at 3 p.m. at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore. Tickets are $35 to $99. Call 410-783-8000 or visit bsomusic.org.

 


FRANKIE MORENO HITS ALL THE RIGHT NOTES

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By Penny Levin

March 30th, 2018

“Performances are a rush,” said Las Vegas singer and musician Frankie Moreno but he also finds it extremely satisfying to compose music. In a recent interview, Moreno talked about his upcoming show at The Smith Center along with his love of music.

“I’m always trying to find new ways to make the shows interesting, and here (Smith Center), I can experiment and try new things I don’t do regularly,” he said. Moreno is a prolific composer and shared that he, along with his brother Tony, who is the bass player in the band, write one or two songs a day.

“Writing taps into people’s emotions, which can be the most powerful or weak moments of (someone’s) life. It’s what we do!” His music, Moreno said, is comfortable for people to connect with and enjoy. “I know what works for us in front of a crowd. If you are fans of ours, you’re going to get it.”

Moreno’s show at The Smith Center covers a broad range of musical styles, from vintage sounds to modern. The artist, who started as a child prodigy pianist, explained that he always wants to be one step ahead with his music and works to accomplish this every day.


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Frankie Moreno’s next adventure: 100 new songs in nine shows

By John Katsilometes

January 7th, 2018

Frankie Moreno used to perform a little sleight-of-singing in his Las Vegas lounge shows. Performing at such venues as La Scala at The Venetian or Rush Lounge at Golden Nugget, the veteran Vegas showman was charged with covering radio hits of the time or classic-rock favorites. Once in a while, he’d slip in an original song he’d just written, announcing, “This is the latest from Maroon 5!” or, “If you haven’t heard the new hit by Matchbox Twenty, here it is!”

Moreno has long graduated from those days and fuses his live shows with a blend of covers and originals. In his 100-show run at Myron’s Cabaret Jazz at the Smith Center, he’s performed fully realized theme nights, centered on the music of such superstars as Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lee Lewis and the like. Nights have been dedicated to country hits, Motown, even a full orchestra summoned for an evening with Mozart. Moreno has been struck by new inspiration for his upcoming nine-show series at Cab Jazz, a twice-monthly run that begins at 8 p.m. Tuesday: A new set of original songs for every show.

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This concept calls for about a dozen heretofore-never-performed numbers, all written by Moreno and his bassist brother and chief collaborator, Tony Moreno, for every Cab Jazz show. That’s about 100 new songs, a career catalog for many singer-songwriters. It’s also an artistic adventure — writing entirely new material specifically for every show in an extended engagement. “We just did everything we could think of for The Smith Center, and Tony and I are always thinking of new songs, new ideas, and this came up a few weeks ago,” Moreno said. “I’m going back to how Mozart was asked to write music specifically for a little dinner party, and he’d get a string quartet together with the idea that it would be played just that night.

“I’m not Mozart, obviously, but I am a huge fan of him and that idea seemed like a something we could dig into.” Working with his brother, Moreno has banked 18 songs already, writing daily through the holidays. His imaginative fecundity is well-known; Moreno has been known to write four songs in a day without the quality of his work flagging. Fan favorites “Tangerine Honey,” “Moonlight Matinee,” “Some Kind of Love,” and “Diva” were assembled in hours. “Cry Baby,” a staple from his days at the Stratosphere Showroom, was conceived and finished in a single afternoon in Paris.

In all, Moreno has had 1,500 compositions published, either on his own or by other artists, many from his days as a contracted songwriter in Nashville, Tennessee. Moreno estimates he’s finished more than 3,000 songs. “The problem, for me, is just finding the time to sit down and write,” Moreno said. “But we went through the whole first run at Smith Center with learning to memorize all of those songs without using charts onstage. It was always learn, learn, learn, and they are getting into it. We’re used to the process now.” Moreno stopped and said, “But yeah, it’s a lot, no question.”

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Moreno is particularly eager to play songs no one has heard of, in any genre. One, “The Good Stuff,” is “kind of a Bonnie Raitt vibe, a little funky,” as he says. “Burnout the Flame” harks back to Ray Charles. Moreno is recording each show, and with the possibility of issuing a “Best of Cab Jazz” album/CD/download by the end of this run. Cab Jazz is not Moreno’s only venue.

Aside from performing-arts center shows later this year, he is also returning at 8 p.m. Thursday to South PointShowroom. His occasional, brisk-selling appearances have evolved into a weekly residency at Michael Gaughan’s locals-friendly resort.

Those South Point shows, remarkable for their advanced video projection and the showroom’s open dance floor, might be Moreno’s most entertaining, all-around stage production yet. But for pure composition ambition, the Cab Jazz concept is unmatched.

“The idea is to learn and grow,” Moreno said. “That’s the beauty of music.”


BWW Interview: The 'New' Mr. Las Vegas, Frankie Moreno Talks 'New Las Vegas' & Songwriting Career

By Kevin Pollack

August 15th, 2017

If you go to Las Vegas, there is one act you definitely need to catch and his name is Frankie Moreno.

As a child prodigy on the piano and a gifted multi-instrumentalist, Frankie was first introduced to American audiences at the age of ten with his debut on CBS's "Star Search". Since then, named "Las Vegas Headliner of the Year" three times, Frankie has been wowing audiences from coast to coast performing his own brand of piano-pounding Rock n' Roll.

Frankie's performance on ABC's "Dancing With The Stars" brought him into America's living rooms again performing his self-penned hit "Tangerine Honey". He has continued with more television appearances, magazine covers and sold-out concerts including Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center and The Hollywood Bowl. The recipient of an Emmy Nomination for his national TV special "Songs at Home", Frankie is now starring in his own nationwide special for PBS titled "Frankie Moreno In Concert".

Frankie toured the U.S. with Grammy nominated country artist Billy Currington and country superstars Sugarland. Frankie has also joined multi-platinum artists Air Supply for their world tour as musical director, and wrote their radio single "Dance with Me", reaching #7 on the Top 40 Billboard charts.

BWW's Kevin Pollack sat down with Frankie before his show at the Golden Nugget Casino to talk about the "new" Las Vegas and his songwriting career. You can listen hereInterview with Frankie Moreno

With the looks and moves of Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, Moreno showcases his brilliant original songs, guitar playing, piano playing and harmonica playing. You can call him a renaissance man. Even though his residency at Golden Nugget may be over, you never know where Frankie may end up next!


Review Frankie Moreno Golden Nugget

By Alex Belfield

Let’s be clear –  Frankie Moreno is a world class talent. He’s effortless, incredible & inspiring. His new show at Golden Nugget Las Vegas proves that he is the epitome of a Las Vegas showman, headliner and star. It showcases his every talent. He’s got the writing skills of Elton, the piano skills of Joel & the stage presence, charm and charisma of Elvis at his peak – collectively that good!

Frankie Moreno is what Vegas should still be. A person with breath-taking skill surrounded by other passionate, talented, dedicated musicians who make him look even better.

For the first 30 minutes Moreno only plays his own material. Risky. Yet, it feels so comfortable, familiar & perfect that from minute one you’re engrossed by the show.

Frankie is a remarkable pianist and musician – he’s sickeningly brilliant actually. You cannot fail to be impressed by his energy, skill and pure musicality. It’s bewildering why he is not a mega-star playing the Colloseum. For these reasons Frankie Moreno is our SHOWMAN OF THE YEAR & BEST NEW SHOW 2017. A 5*master-class in showmanship, talent and joyous live entertainment.

Book Frankie Moreno TICKETS HERE!

 Enjoy an EXCLUSIVE interview & review + HD VIDEO via YouTube:

Frankie has not only class, theatrical genius but swagger. He embodies a feel of better times when we had ‘stars’ not ‘celebrities’.

He understands the power of the crowd control and simply will not allow them not to participate. He does his show with the audience, not at them.

There’s no surprise in any of this – he’s a pro, he’s been doing this all of his entire life. He’s written for global stars whilst constantly touring the US as a headliner himself mastering his craft.

Rarely do you watch someone who was born to do this type of show. To compare his talent you get into the ‘legend’ and ‘icon’ categories like Celine, Rod, Whitney, Michael & frankly – Frankie could hold his own next to any of the above.

Kudos to the entire band who support Frankie magnificently. Such collective passion & genuine joy is rarely seen on stage these days. This is old school ethics made cool and 100% relevant for 2017 audiences. There’s a lot of ‘banter’ with the audience which may not be to everyone’s taste. Moreno wants party, so if you’re not up for it, I suggest you stay away. A lifetimes dedication and discipline has resulted in a world class performance by Frankie Moreno at Golden Nugget Las Vegas Thursday’s & Saturday’s at 8pm. A star is re-born!

Review by Alex Belfield for Celebrity Radio 26th May 2017.


Singer Frankie Moreno to play Carnegie Hall

By Robin Leach

 

When multitalented Frankie Moreno takes to the stage twice weekly downtown at the Golden Nugget neither he nor his band knows exactly what they’re going to play. But that’s not even the most dangerous part of his performance. Frankie is determined to turn the experience of listening and watching him into an unexpected and unscripted party — and, yet, don’t expect tunes or songs you even know.

His energy and enthusiasm are so electrifying that audiences leave their seats and start to dance at the lip of the stage. Now, he’s going to take that very Vegas vibe to the serious and sedate Carnegie Hall in New York. Frankie’s even won first-ever permission to have rolling drink carts — a la Vegas casino — roam the aisles of the prestigious and revered building since its opening in 1891. So patrons will be able to enjoy Vegas-sized drinks of scotch and soda, vodka and tonic, rum and coke or dispatch one to Frankie as he plays the hall that has hosted to such conductors as Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff.

You’d never guess from his pounding of the piano keys; his Presley-like gyrations at the microphone; the strumming of his guitar strings; and the on-stage razz-a-ma-tazz with the sometime upside-down-back-to-front antics with a variety of musical instruments that Frankie is a fan of the classics and their composers.

At a recent Saturday night concert, I watched with uptight, out-of-town business guests who broke their own polite codes of conduct by discarding jackets and ties and joined the showroom party. They wondered why Frankie, who was more dynamic than Elvis, wasn’t the biggest star on earth. I talked with him about that quirkiness of fame, his upcoming trip to Carnegie Hall in New York with the Vegas vibe and a lot more in the dressing room that Rat Pack kingpin Frank Sinatra once used years ago at the Golden Nugget.

Q: Why do you only play originals at the beginning of a show? That’s a dangerous high-wire balancing act?

A: Very much, I think I do that just for that reason. People come (to) my show and they don’t know who I am. I guess it really comes down to this: Our whole show is me just trying to figure out the crowd. You have so many different kinds of people in the room. We have a pretty diverse crowd from little kids to 80-year-old women celebrating their birthdays. If I go in and I start playing familiar music because they don’t know me, I instantly get them on my side in a false way.

If I play “Mustang Sally,” they love “Mustang Sally.” OK, we’re all friends but it’s not anything real that they’re going to take away. It’s just for the moment. It’s just there and they like the song and they’re just, kind of playing along — like if we were in a bar or something. If everything is unfamiliar to them, I can start reading them more as people and seeing like — what they are liking about what I’m doing, what are they not liking about what I’m doing. And win them over with a real human aspect.

Look at it like this. If I just met you for the first time in a bar and we’re having a conversation, I want to get to know you. I don’t want you to tell me a story about somebody else and maybe — the risk is — maybe I don’t like you. … So, I kind of just built off that philosophy. Just let me create a real thing when I go on stage. I want to let you know who I am. I’ll weed out the ones who aren’t going to like me, which (are) going to be some. When I’ve got them on my side — and we’re friends — we can just start sharing all kinds of music at that point. So, that’s why I started doing a couple of cover favorites toward the end.

Q: Is it easier to perform as a party rather than as a show?

A: I don’t know what you call what we’re doing. It’s a party because it’s fun like that, but I’ve just never been one (who) has been seeking stardom. I’ve never sought after being a celebrity in that sense. I’ve always just wanted to be a really good musician. Even as a child, I idolized these stars — Elvis and Frank Sinatra and Jerry Lewis and all these guys. But, my goal is, I want to be better than them as a musician, not a bigger name. That was never a goal. When I walk on stage, I don’t want it to be: Hey, look at me; look what I can do. I like just more that kind of connection of let’s just go out there and we’ll share music together; we’ll share drinks together. So, I don’t even know if it’s so much a party. Zowie Bowie does it more of a party. What Clint Holmes does is more of a musical show. I’m not really sure what we’re doing, honestly. 

I tried the show thing, with the Planet Hollywood experiment and it was a wonderful show. I love that show but every night, I had to go back and do the exact same thing and it just got stale. This to me — I feel like I can really go out and — you know, we changed the song — if you came back to the next show, it would be different. It’s a similar formula but not the same

Q: Do you really go out there as you’ve said — “there’s no such thing as a set list.” How does the band know where you’re going and what to play?

A: Signals. It’s kind of like baseball. Like the catcher gives the pitch: This is our fastball No. 1, our curve ball No. 2. I give them signals. …. I have a list of songs that I would like to play but, in no particular order or anything like that. If the crowd is all standing on their feet and excited and my next song on my list to play is a ballad; it’s not going to work. So, I just skip that.

Q: Now you’re making a leap from unbridled fun at the Golden Nugget to serious stuff at Carnegie Hall.

A: The Carnegie Hall concerts are going to be right at the start of the New Year. First up though, is The Kennedy Center on Sept. 15-16 of this year. I did a job with Joshua Bell several years ago. We just met and it was a fluke, he liked my stuff; I liked his stuff. We made a record and the single that we did together became No. 1. It changed my life because it was a classical song for an arrangement.

It didn’t have the impact of Taylor Swift getting a No. 1 single on the Pop Chart. This was the Classical charts. But, it really changed my pay scale — my everything. You know, we went from making $1,500 in a bar to making $15,000. Since then, I’ve done a lot of work with Joshua. We did a couple of records and he just introduced me to a whole world of classical people and that introduced me to the people who run the New York Philharmonic and the National Symphony Orchestra. As we met, we all got closer. Two years of cultivating these relationships turned into them asking me to come and play a special show celebrating Frank Sinatra. We won a couple of different symphony events: Carnegie Hall New York, Kennedy Center Washington, D.C., and Toronto.

They invited us to play the music of Frank Sinatra and, of course, I said, yes, of course. Now, I’m not that familiar with the music. I know the music. I know it all by heart but I never sang it — not my style. I learned all the songs and walking on stage at the Carnegie Hall for me was like a dream come true. We sold out Carnegie Hall, we sold out Kennedy Center, we sold out all these places and they’ve been wanting to do another show just for me. A few months back they called wanting me to do my show with the orchestra behind me; plus Kennedy Center is Sept. 15-16 and one in Baltimore the month after that. A whole lot of them follow — Carnegie Hall feels for me the ultimate achievement. For me, that’s the top of the game. It doesn’t translate so big to my Vegas world for some reason. A lot of people either don’t know about the power of Carnegie Hall or don’t care. It just doesn’t cross over. If I were to go and play the Colosseum at Caesars, oh my god, the whole town would be talking about that for sure. The last time we played there (at Carnegie Hall) we wound up on the front page of the New York Times while here it didn’t rate a blurb in a blog.

Q: So either in January or February, you’ll throw your party on the stage of Carnegie Hall with 85 musicians behind you. How do they know what you’re going to play as the party rocks on?

A: I have to do the charts for 85 musicians. I need to have the charts all done by next month and as you can imagine, that’s a pretty big task. So, I’ll probably have somebody help do a couple of them. But, I’ll try to do as many of them as I can because I want to do them.