Tony Orlando

December 15, 1999

Tony OrlandoBy KATE COLEMAN / staff writer

"Tony Orlando is a mess right now," Tony Orlando said in a phone interview from a St. Louis airport earlier this week.

cont. from lifestyle

It wasn't fear of flying that was shaking him. Orlando was en route to Council Bluffs, Iowa, to see his 29-year-old son, Jon, a comic, open for Tom Jones. He was excited about his son playing on the same bill as Jones. "He's an icon," the 55-year-old Orlando said of Jones.

Orlando doesn't presume icon status himself, but he does have a career that spans 39 years.

He'll bring his "Santa & Me" show to Capitol Theatre Cultural Arts Center in Chambersburg, Pa., for shows at 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 18.


How does Orlando feel about his son choosing a career in entertainment, a field that has provided some hard times for him?

"Why? Are you crazy?," Orlando asked him. Comedy is the toughest part of show business, he believes. "At least I can go to a song," he said.

Orlando has gone to a song - and very successfully - more than once.

If you go...

Tony Orlando's "Santa & Me"

When: Saturday, Dec. 18, 4 and 8 p.m.

Where: Capitol Theatre Cultural Arts Center

159 S. Main St.

Chambersburg, Pa.

Tickets: $30 to $39

Information: 1-717-263-0202

Orlando's start

He remembers the day it "hit" him, the day he knew he wanted to be a performer. He was a little boy and saw Gene Kelly in "Singin' in the Rain." He came home from the movies, got his mother's umbrella and started dancing off couches and swinging on poles.

Orlando didn't have musical training. "Just did it," he said. Years later he performed at Friars Club tributes for Kelly.

Orlando was 16 and the first vocal artist to sign with Epic records when "Halfway to Paradise" and "Bless You" hit the charts. He later shifted his career to the business side of the music industry, becoming one of CBS Records' youngest vice presidents.

In 1970, Orlando recorded a demo record for a song written by friends. "Candida," released under the name of the promotion director's daughter, Dawn, hit No. 1 on the charts. His 1971 follow-up, "Knock Three Times," sold six million copies and became the year's top song.

That success convinced Orlando to complete the leap from the executive offices to the stage. He was joined by Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson, and together Tony Orlando and Dawn had 1973's No. 1 song in "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree." The tune became a theme for Orlando and later an anthem for America during the Iranian hostage crisis.

Other hit songs followed, as did a popular television variety show on the air from 1973 to 1977. He has shared stages with entertainers he idolized - Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Jackie Gleason. He's done the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon for 23 years. Orlando has received three American Music Awards, a People's Choice Award and was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1990.

But life hasn't been all sunshine and upbeat songs for Orlando. His life was the subject of a June 1998 episode of VH1's "Behind the Music." The program was brutally honest, according to Orlando. But sensitive issues were handled with respect and dignity, he believes.

The show had a message he hopes kids will hear: "Drugs don't work." He believes his good upbringing allowed him to put on the brakes and pick himself up.

Orlando credits the VH1 program with increasing the size of his audiences. Sure, there are plenty of his contemporaries in the houses he plays. But Orlando is surprised by the numbers of younger people, people who are too young to be nostalgic for the music of his good old days. "It's a mystery to me," he said.

Orlando today

Born and raised in New York City, Orlando has lived in Branson, Mo., since 1993. He performs 40 shows a year at the Osmond Family Theater in Branson and has been on the road since last summer when he performed in "Smokey Joe's Cafe" on Broadway. His first gig on the Great White Way was in "Barnum" in 1981.

Orlando will wrap up 1999 at Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, N.J., with a gig closing New Year's Eve.

The next century will be off to a busy start for Orlando. He will play himself in "Waking Up in Reno," a film scheduled to open in February. Also in February, he'll be in Miami and New York recording an album with several Latin artists. He wrote the collection's lead song as a tribute to his grandfather, a Latin trumpet player. He has a deal for a book about his life.

Orlando's shows in Chambersburg will be eclectic, and, as always, he expects that he'll get out in the audience. There will be music, of course, and Orlando promises that there will be a surprise moment and some surprises for him, too.

"I don't write the middle of the show," he said. He plans the opener and the closer, but he lets his audience determine what the rest will be. It's the risk-taking that keeps people on the edge of their seats, he believes.

He acknowledged the versatility that has allowed him to reinvent himself several times. But it's what you do in a live performance that determines success, Orlando says.

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