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Last Updated 5/6/2009
21st Reunion - We Honored NEIL SEDAKA

After pouring down the steps from the patio, the crowd settled in their familiar seats in great anticipation. And, what a show it was!
How can one miss with a lineup that included some of the finest comedians from the famed New York Friars Club led by its president, Freddie Roman, Dick Capri and Stewie Stone and singers like Mike Burstyn, Lorna Luft and Roslyn Kind. With the talent of master of ceremonies Fred Travalena and the appearances of our honorary co-chairs Jon Voight and Louis Gossett, Jr. along with our pal Tony Orlando and with appearances by “his majesty” Sid Caesar and Monty Hall, the show took on a life of its own.
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The New York tunes and melodies of singer composer Neil Sedaka played by the Manny Harmon Orchestra, under the direction of John Setar was the seed that framed the underpinning of the special and unique “New York” evening.
Although appearing in his 15th consecutive year, this time with the Joint Services Color Guard (Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines),
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the audience was once again overwhelmed by the voice of Robbie Britt. His duet with Makeda Tene of “America the Beautiful” was described by Beverly Hills columnist, Joan Magnum as “the most stirring rendition I’ve ever heard.”
And, that was just the beginning……Fred Travalena, who was to simply sing one specially written song to Neil, was pressed into service at the last minute as the master of ceremonies… and what a job he did – weaving an eclectic pattern of performers through a most entertaining and merry evening. Veteran Friars comedian Stewie Stone appearing for the first time on our stage was a resounding breath of fresh air as he captured the hearts and souls of the audience. Comedian Dick Capri, who was chauffeured to our stage ten years ago only minutes after his appearance on “Catskills on Broadway,” at the Wilshire Theatre in Beverly Hills, had the audience rolling in the aisles.
Close pals of Neil Sedaka, Lorna Luft and Roslyn Kind, along with NYAA’s pal, Mike Burstyn honored Neil by each singing songs written by Neil. As described by famed columnist and designer, Mr. Blackwell, “they were phenomenal.” When Robbie and Makeda returned singing “There’s Nothing Like A Dame,” in tribute to Mitzi Gaynor, they electrified the “room.” After a warm introduction by Budd Friedman,
Monty Hall did the honors by officially performing the ceremony adopting her as a daughter of New York City. Mitzi was a riot in her comedic explanation of how women go about dressing up before going to a “ritzy ritzy” elegant ball.
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Veteran comedian and Friars’ roastmaster Freddy Roman, returning for his third consecutive reunion (he adopted US!) took over as master of ceremonies in the second act. Sid Caesar, who has been coming to each and every one of our reunions ever since we honored him twelve years ago - was simply - Sid Caesar - wonderful, inspiring and funny. The only icon left of a fabulous era in American comedy, the audience was able to share one of those experiences where they will be able to tell their friends “I saw Sid Caesar in 2006 and he was as great as he ever was”. In an evening of highly emotional surprises, Toni Wine, a buddy of Neil’s for some 50 years sang a song that Neil had written as a teenager.
Tony Orlando kept the promise he made last year to return to our stage. Tony told the audience how his having been honored by the NYAA last year and of having received his high school diploma still resonates with him every day. He told of telling his story of the New York Alumni at a commencement speech at a local high school and how much it meant to him and to his mother having finally graduated from high school. Richard Roberts, the president of Oral Roberts University was in that audience and he was so taken by Tony’s story that he told Tony that Tony’s life merited being honored with an honorary doctorate in humanities. “I’m going to be a doctor - ‘Dr. Orlando’ Tony screamed and it’s all because of you guys!
Tony then spoke of his relationship with Neil going back to when they were 16 and Tony also carefully and poignantly explained the impact of Neil Sedaka on the history of American music. Tony was, as he always is - articulate, delightful and most entertaining.
And, that wasn’t all. After singing two of Neil’s songs Tony told Freddy and Neil of a very special surprise that Tony had arranged. For Hank Medress, one of Neil’s very first singing partners, at age 15 and who was a part of the original “Token” to fly in from New York to surprise Neil. (They hadn’t seen each other in about 25. years.) The surprise and joy on Neil’s face was memorable as Hank talked about the very earliest days as two young boys from Brooklyn were plotting their careers
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Through the efforts of our director Jon Alexander we had a surprise congratulatory video from Barry Manilow – but not just the “obligatory” hello and congratulations.... Barry spoke for about 4 minutes telling of his friendship with Neil and his admiration of Neil’s creativity as a composer and performer. After viewing a video highlighting Neil’s achievements our two “clean-up hitters” NYAA co-chairs Jon Voight and Louis Gossett took the stage. Lou who was a classmate of Neil’s at Lincoln High for two years shared some of their personal experiences while Jon spoke of their relationship in later years. Lou and Jon then introduced Tony Newman, Vice President of the Juilliard School and Tony announced that Neil Sedaka, who left Juilliard early to pursue his career, was being made an official Juilliard alumnus.
And, to cap off the evening - Neil Sedaka what more is there to say? Neil was truly touched by the outpouring of love and affection and he sang to the delight of everyone.
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