Michael Cavanaugh interprets ‘The Music of Elton John’ with Philharmonic at Schuster

Photo: Michael Cavanaugh performs “The Music of Elton John”  this weekend

By Tim Walker

Elton John: when the history of popular music in the 20th century is written, few names will carry as much weight. With his evocative voice, shameless antics both onstage and off, outrageous costumes, and timeless songs, Elton John has carved out a unique niche in the public consciousness. Now into the fifth decade of his career and having sold more than 300 million recordings, he remains one of the world’s most well-known and beloved entertainers.

The Dayton Philharmonic, in the second installment of its Rockin’ Orchestra series for the 2017-2018 season, will be presenting “The Music of Elton John” on Friday, Nov. 3 at the beautiful Schuster Center in downtown Dayton. This one-time-only performance, which begins at 8 p.m., will feature guest performer Michael Cavanaugh and his band playing along with the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, which will be conducted by Patrick Reynolds. Cavanaugh is no stranger to Dayton or to performing with the Philharmonic—he performed “The Music of Billy Joel” with the DPO and conductor Neal Gittleman at the Schuster Center just over a year ago.

“We approached it in a very similar way to the way we did ‘The Music of Billy Joel’ show last year,” says Cavanaugh, speaking to the Dayton City Paper from his home in Las Vegas recently. “The songs just lend themselves so well to this. We’re opening the show with ‘Philadelphia Freedom,’ for example, which already has orchestration all over it. So it’s great. And then we’ll do a song like ‘I’m Still Standing,’ which didn’t have any orchestration, but it just works really well. Of course, we’ll do all the great songs that everyone expects. Like Billy Joel, Elton is another one of my musical heroes and always has been.”

From his first hit, 1970’s “Your Song” (which was actually the B-side of the “Take Me to the Pilot” single, from his self-titled second album), Elton John’s career has reached a level of international success and musical brilliance achieved by only a handful of pop stars. Often teaming up with lyricist and partner Bernie Taupin, Elton John’s hit songs—among them “Rocket Man,” “Levon,” “Honky Cat,” “Crocodile Rock,” “Tiny Dancer,” “Candle in the Wind,” and “Daniel”—helped to define a certain style of piano-based ballads and AOR music which grew popular on FM radio in the early 1970s and stayed right on through the 1980s. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, John’s charity single “Candle in the Wind 1997” is the biggest-selling single in the world since U.S. and U.K. singles charts began in the ’50s. Its accumulated worldwide sales of 33 million copies make it the second best-selling record of all time, only behind Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.”

An Ohio native, Michael Cavanaugh grew up in Cleveland. As a 12-year-old, he started performing on the piano in local nightclubs, and then graduated to playing in local bands before moving to Las Vegas, where he had the good fortune to meet Billy Joel himself while working at a dueling piano bar. That fortuitous meeting, arranged by Joel’s manager, resulted in Cavanaugh being handpicked by Joel and invited to move to New York, where he helped Twyla Tharp shape Movin’ Out, the Broadway jukebox musical which celebrates Joel’s career and songs. From 2002 to 2005, Cavanaugh was the lead in the show, performing and singing nonstop during every performance. He was subsequently nominated for Grammy and Tony awards for his role.

A favorite with local audiences, the Rockin’ Orchestra Series, sponsored each year by Dayton Freight, has proven to be one of the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance and the Dayton Philharmonic’s most popular annual series. In a typical Rockin’ Orchestra performance, the Dayton Philharmonic will perform a series of popular songs by a particular artist while accompanied by a talented rock band and at least one vocalist. Upcoming performances in this season’s series will celebrate the music of David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, U2, and The Who’s “Tommy.”

The Nov. 3 evening with the music of Elton John, however, promises to be one of the best of the season. And out of everyone looking forward to that evening’s show, none are more excited than the visiting piano man—and rocket man—himself.

“You know, Billy and Elton toured together several times,” continues Cavanaugh, “and it just seemed to work and make sense. So I’m bringing the same band with me to Dayton, and we’re just going to have a blast.”

The DPAA and the Dayton Philharmonic will present “The Music of Elton John” at the Schuster Center on Friday, Nov. 3 at 8 p.m. and tickets are still available. For more information, please visit TicketCenterStage.com or call the box office at 937.228.3630.

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Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com

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