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Last Updated 5/6/2009
Tony Orlando

After the reunion in the large and expansive patio area, it was a short walk to the auditorium. As the crowd was settling in to their seats they were listing to the familiar orchestral overture of the under the direction of John Setar . As the video images showing various areas in New York screamed “YES!…. that’s MY apartment building!” as Tony recognized where he grew up.

It was a show like no other – but at the same time it was a typical show - produced each year by the talented and veteran team from the New York Alumni.

While expecting to see Robbie Britt to opening the show singing “America” his visage was seen on the video sitting on the Staten Island Ferry apologizing because he couldn’t be here tonight. He started singing on the ferry and a few moments later, in a most dramatic effect, the spotlight showed a man walking down the aisle from the back of the audience followed by the Joint Military Services Guard. That man who was singing turned out to be none other than our own Robbie Britt. As the color guard marched through the darkened auditorium to the mellifluous voice, the crowd slowly rose to their feet, in the same manner when Robbie sang “God Bless America,” days after 9/11 at our 2001 reunion. 1,700 people standing and singing while facing the 4-man Marine color guard was a moment never to be forgotten. After the color guard left the stage, they made a special point to say that in all of the years marching at different events this was by far the warmest and most dramatic reaction they have experienced! Kudos to Jon for creating yet another wonderful and memorable beginning for our show.

Our friend, and long time NYAA pal Sal Richards sauntered on stage and 3 ½ hours later, Tony Orlando called him one of the most brilliant masters’ of ceremonies he’s ever seen. Sal was everywhere, cracking jokes, singing songs, doing impressions and guiding the performers on and off-stage with the aplomb of our great friend, Milton Berle.
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Sal introduced us to a great singer, Rodi Alexander, whom he brought from Florida. Her interpretation of “All that Jazz,” was smooth, sultry and sexy as she was accompanied by her musical director and husband Mark Friedman. Scott Record followed with his clever wit, his virtuoso Italian songs and ended with a rendition of “Razzle Dazzle” that brought a resounding and thrilling standing ovation.

As in past years we were blessed with two young comedians, John Caponera and John DiResta. John D, a former NYC transit cop from Long Island remarked that he too, is a New Yorker, that he grew up on Long Island and he was bar-mitzvah’d at Leonard’s of Great Neck…… and he wasn’t even Jewish!?! After seeing so many Italian performers on the show, Sal remarked that this was because Tony Orlando “needed the protection!” When it came time to adopt Sammy Shore, what better way than to have one of our most revered pals from Winnipeg, Canada, Monty Hall, a recent New York adoptee, perform the ceremony by reading the oath written by California U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, Wingate H.S. Brooklyn. Famed artist Melaine Taylor Kent presented Sammy with her classic rendering of Radio City Music Hall that had Sammy’s name as the headliner.
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Sammy said he was thrilled to be adopted inasmuch as he said that had been an orphan most of his life! (bada-da-bing!) Although the audience has seen Sammy often on our stage, he was his usual clever and witty self and he captured everyone with his sentimental and newly released song, “When I’m Young Again.” Broadway singers and husband and wife Ray Saar and Diane Ketchie brought down the house and the first act with their powerful interpretation of Bocelli’s, “Time To Say Goodbye.”

The second act featured Mike Burstyn who sang the title song from Barnum, and reminded everyone that both he and Tony Orlando played P.T. Barnum in the Broadway production. Mike, who also starred as Al Jolson showed his skill and ability in reliving one of Jolson’s greatest hits, “Mammy.” Mike ended his portion of the show with a thrilling signature song from our homeland, “New York, New York!”

One of America’s most cherished treasures and one of the NYAA’s best supporters, Sid Caesar, showed us why, after 60 years in show business, he’s still as clever and as funny as ever. As in the past 10 years, the laughter continues year after year and the affection between Sid and the audience is one of absolute love and reverence.
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Chairpersons Fran and Lou Zigman welcomed the crowd and this being our 20th anniversary they introduced the members of the Executive Board. Those pictured on stage include Gladys Jaffe, Helen Antler, Gail Rund, Linda & Ira Goldberg, Fran Zigman, Arlene & Ed Schachter, Bob Tedeschi and Lou Zigman. Longtime pals, composer Artie Butler and Toni Wine, who began singing and writing for Tony when they were 16, (and she still does) wrote a beautiful and heartfelt song for him. As Toni sang, she remarked how happy she was to have surprised Tony with this special gift for her special life-long pal. Aftter a poignant video of Tony’s life and career, edited by director Jon Alexander, Tony was brought to the stage by our co-chair Louis Gossett, Jr. The audience, almost totally exhausted by the performers, sat in absolute awe as they watched the next 40 minutes unfold.

Tony was in a state of shock after being introduced to Ralph Santiago, Assistant Principal of Aviation H.S. and watching Ralph, Lou, Toni, Sammy and Sal don mortar-board graduation caps as the orchestra played “Pomp & Circumstance.”
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Ralph told Tony that he was here to present Tony with his official high school diploma, formally adopted by the New York City Board of Education in recognition for his fine work and success after having dropped out of high school some 43 years ago. Tony’s official graduation from high school occurred at Beverly Hills High before 1,700 with a number of his closest and dearest friends from his early days in New York on hand together with his son John. Tony turned to the audience and with complete humility told everyone how meaningful this was for him by saying that despite the success of his career, his marriage and wonderful children that he always felt that he had let his parents and himself down by not having completed his education. To finally be graduated, and by an Hispanic principal, gave him special pride and having his adult son present at this meaningful to him.

Ralph told everyone that because Aviation was a trade school they don’t use the traditional mortar board and gowns at graduation. Ralph presented Tony with his own mechanic’s uniform that all graduates wear. In recounting his short time at Aviation, Tony suddenly blurted out, “Heck, I think it was a good thing that I left school because if I didn’t, I’d probably be one of your mechanic’s now!” And, the audience roared.
If that wasn’t enough, Tony turned to the orchestra and we had “our third show” as Tony sang and sang and sang for another 30 minutes.

And still that wasn’t enough. Afterward 150 people went to the NYAA “Sardis” (the New York Deli in Century City) along with the performers and Tony to relax and celebrate. It was one helleva’ time!!!!.

Postscript – On Sunday, Tony flew to Vegas. When he showed his mother his diploma, she qvelled! According to Sammy Shore, Tony was so proud that he promised his mother that he was now going to go to college!

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