St. George Theatre: 
Marcus Simeone returns to his roots

MS 3 21 15 St. George perf 

There is a distinct reason why Marcus Simeone is one of the most respected vocalists – and one of today's best kept secrets in the music industry. Critics have compared him to every great male singer past and present. Aside from numerous awards for his shows in Manhattan clubs and rave reviews (including the NY Times,) and after five sensational CDs (Miranda Music) he is not a household word across the land. That may be about to change. On Saturday, March 21, he packed them into the historic St. George Theatre on Staten Island in the new Mezzanine Lounge where the sold out crowd was treated to an incredible two hour entertainment spectacle of musical artistry and beautiful vocals by a hometown boy who recalled the likes of Bobby Darin and Sammy Davis, Jr. at their peak with his showmanship.The vocal vocabulary he deployed ran from R & B/ jazz to pop and a bounty of obscure tunes and originals that he switched throughout his show with jaw-dropping ease. Comfortable in all genres, he's conquered the hard-lined critics and audiences of New York rooms and has been praised repeatedly for his unique 5-octave tenor. Here, with a dynamic trio, led by Tracy Stark along with Marco Brehm on bass and David Silliman on drums, he brought two other Staten Island talents to join him: clarion- toned Maria Ottavia and 13-year old piano prodigy Albert Cardone.

Now, the historic St. George Theatre is a marvel unto itself that dates back to the days of vaudeville. More recently, the cathedral-like interior (that oddly resembles the set of “The Phantom of the Opera,”) has hosted stars like Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga and will be hosting the legendary Carol Burnett on May 9th in the cavernous 2000 seat, newly renovated arena. While this $1.9 million renovation has been underway, management wisely decided to make use of the large upstairs mezzanine lounge and converted it into a plush, intimate, albeit opulent, nightclub/performance space with a terrific lineup of shows that, in recent weeks, has included cabaret's Kim Grogg, The Dreamers, Vinnie Medugno & Charlie Poveromo, Jay Miller, Samantha Frank and The Flesh Junkies among others. Despite a few minor audio quirks and bright house lights, the setting was perfect thanks to a great staff for this powerhouse show. Throughout, Simeone was in total command and waved to old friends throughout as well as new fans blown away by this wildly talented force of nature.

Opening with a soft, tender reading of “Where Or When,” which launched into Peter Allen's lively “I Could Have Been a Sailor,” Simeone hit Berry Gordy's rocking “Money.” This strong opening set the stage for what was to follow: an eclectic evening of standard and pop fare that rocked the rafters. The arrangements, soft and traditional and lightning-paced rock 'n roll introduced the audience to Simeone's sweeping vocals and musical attention to every detail with those stratospheric notes that just soared. He is one of those rare artists that makes the audience inclusive as they experience his trademark emotional interpretations on every musical nuance and lyric. It was only the beginning. After such a spirited opening, he settled into a more intimate mode and introduced his musicians along with Maria Ottavia who sang backup on some selections. He acknowledged old friends and family sharing warm memories. More than once, he reiterated gtatitude for their support and how special it was for him to be performing for his hometown crowd.  Waves of love came across the footlights. At the end of many songs, he showed a natural warmth by speaking to the crowd as if he were catching up with an old friend after spending some time away. Simeone poignantly reiterated how thankful he was to his late mother and father, acknowledged his brothersand repeeated his gratitude for the  support as well as his excitement to be back home performing - on Staten Island. The next hour and 45-minutes offered a bevy of old favorites fused with unfamiliar and emotionally charged ballads fromhis club acts and appearances around the country.

Like Rufus Wainwright, Melissa Etheridge and Sam Smith (whom he's been compared to,) Simeone is a well liked, comfortable, openly gay artist. To that end, in recent years, he occasionally tackles social issues andadds message songs to the mix. He did this more than once at the St. George. A perfect example turned into one of the evening's crowd pleaser's, “Married In London” by Janis Ian (“Society's Child,” “At Seventeen,” etc.) The light songpokes fun at the absurdity of acceptance of same sex marriage around the globe. It's quite funny in its subtle, non-preachy  message of equality with Simeone displaying a deft flare for comedy. On a more serious note, he sang a profound heart-breaker called “When Angels Cry,” (also by Janis Ian.)This tied into a personal story of an African woman with AIDS (Simeone once worked with AIDS patients.) There were few dry eyes in the house. He created a pin-dropper mood with “I Had This Man,” a rarity recorded by Jane Olivor in the 1970s. Few singers today can pull off so many social opinions in one show and makethem work. It's very risky but this crowd, made up of manyfamilytypes, embraced his sincerity with cheers. The belabored 1938 “Strange Fruit,” is a very dated Billie Holiday gruesomelydescriptivewail about black lynchings that was met with mixed results.

A sweet, well-paced duet on “I Have Dreamed” with the genteel soprano of Maria Ottavia became a crowd favorite. Anothrt lovely duet came with “The Promise.” She then created a special moment with a beautiful “On A Clear Day (You Can See Forever”) that reminded everyone how Broadway classics should be sung.

The big surprise of the night came with the gifted and prodigious keyboard wizardry of 13-year old pianist Albert Cardone. Showing a style that belies his years and a penchant for jazz/pop styling, he blew the room away on several showy turns that proved this is only the beginning. He was particularly adept ripping up the keys on “Bumblebee Boogie” where he asked the crowd, “ … do you want it faster?” They did. He obliged. As he increased the tempo to a frantic pace, it seemed like the keys might explode with the magic of his fingers from this young talent who is going places. Trust this (experienced) observer, Albert Cardone is destined to become a household word.

However, ultimately, the night belonged to Marcus Simeone. His achingly soulful voice was the highlight and made the show the awe-inspiring event it was for almost two hours. This included R &B throat-scorchers like “A Change Is Gonna Come” (a cover by Sam Cook,) Ashford & Simpson's “I Ain't Been Licked,” and “Fair Enough,” an octave-jumping/spit-fire Latin-esque showstopper that tore the stage up with it's increasing tempo and sustained notes which he held forever thatwere mind-boggling and drew some of the most entusiastic applause of the evening.Likewise, on the gentler,more emotional side, Simeone cast a spell with two new beauties; a tear-jerking ballad by rising songwriter Brett Kristofferson called “Things That Haunt Me” (accompanied tenderly by Cardone) and his original award winning song “Haunted” (co-written with Tracy Stark who was at the piano.) An upllifting “Better Days” (another Jane Olivor song) was full of yearning. A spontaneous sing-along erupted on The Beatles' "Let It Be" with Cardone back at the piano. This turned into one of those moments that will linger with anyone who was present. Closing with a whispered “Kindness Makes Me Cry,” by another rising songwriter, Maria Gentile,sent a bittersweet message. The room jumped to its feet cheeringloudly after this Vegas-style showcase by an awesome vocalist who deserves even wider exposure.

Not enough can be said about the band who outdid itself with Manhattan club and recording musicians: award winning Tracy Stark, whose musical direction was nothing short of extraordinary on some difficult charts. Same goes for brilliant bassist Marco Brehm as well the electrifying drums of David Silliman.

It was a night to remember at the beautiful St. George Theatre on Staten Island. As this revamped theater enters a new stage in it's fabled history, there's a lot more ahead. Hopefully, in addition to the iconic stars, they will continue to find room to support rising talents. It's time.


For information on upcoming performances at The St. George Theatre:

For information on Marcus Simeone, check his website:






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