Niagara Gazette

December 14, 2013

LETTERS FROM THE ISLAND: Tony Orlando dazzles during casino show

By Doug and Polly Smith
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Dear Mainland Merry-Makers — After Tony Orlando’s concert Wednesday afternoon at the Seneca Niagara Casino, someone in the audience left a walker behind.

Much as Doug exaggerates, we are not making this up.

As Orlando retreated and the house lights rose, we stayed behind, waiting for the jam to clear in the lobby. And here comes this young woman, a casino staffer, guiding this walker through the void and asking, “Anybody know who this belongs to?”

Surely there’s a reasonable explanation, but there was so much revival meeting in Orlando’s show that it seemed plausible that somebody came in lame and was healed.

We can’t remember a better show, or cleaner, either.

Doug covered Orlando at Melody Fair in the ‘70s, still has a picture of him with our Holly, which we passed backstage. We felt a little sheepish — like, how many people have old Tony Orlando photos, five million? — until a bejeweled woman in red, no spring chicken she, rose during the show and handed him a gift bag and scrapbook.

Those 70s were Orlando’s “Dawn Days.” He’s had a twilight or two since and a few years back we caught him at a Canadian-side casino, having recently shed many kilograms. Here, for $35 each, peanuts in today’s concert economy, we’d be happy to settle for Tony Orlando & Dusk.

But the Tony Orlando who walked onto open the show — just walked on, no intro, no nothing but a few wisps of smoke — was fiddle-fit, and it was easy to see how a soldier on Iraq deployment, as he would later recall, would mistake him for Geraldo Rivera.

A Tony Orlando doesn’t have to do much. Just being there is enough. But what a cadre of musicians he has assembled. For one, there’s a keyboardist named Toni Wine who has been with him, he said, for 52 years. Fifty-two years, platonically, in showbiz? What does that say about him? It’s not as if she needs the money — she’s still lapping up residuals for “Meow Mix” commercials. “She’s rich,” he whispered in loud aside, more admiring than envious.

Then there was left-handed guitarist Kerri Cole, a mimic, it turns out, everyone from Led Zeppelin to Cher, and a Johnny Cash, mining those low, low notes the Man in Black had to do prison time to find. He was unbelievable.

And speaking of belief, there was an odd-looking chap in the audience, bearded, long red flannels. He turned out to represent a Jolly Old Elf often seen along about now, who lectured Orlando on the meaning of the season in an exchange so professionally awkward it almost seemed real.

After nearly two hours they receded, to rest up for six more shows, including four today and Sunday, a few seats left, but not many. Meantime, come visit. We’ll tie a yellow ribbon to the old fir tree. Knock three times. And don’t forget your walker.

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