By Ron Onesti
Special to dailyherald.com
So many people say to me, “Boy, I wish I had YOUR job!” They see me on stage before a show at The Arcada or Des Plaines Theatre, mingling with celebs and loving the music. Yes, that is a blessing I thank God for every day.
However, what I tell people is they only see 3% of it; the other 97% is not as pretty!
Still, the part with the entertainers has definitely come to be a big part of it for me. I am proud to be star-struck, as these showbiz pros have earned it by giving us our musical memories. My experiences are better with some entertainers than with others, especially if we’ve built a history of putting on their shows. Some of those experiences are just plain magical!
One such relationship that comes to mind as I recollect some of the best times I have had in my career is the connection I have fostered with legendary television and recording star Tony Orlando. His sincere excitement when he sees anyone he knows is just so warm, and so real. Rarely have I met someone, especially somebody of his level of fame, who is more loving, caring and considerate.
In 1973, Tony Orlando and Dawn recorded the group’s biggest hit (and 37th biggest hit in history, according to Billboard Magazine), “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree.” It was in the top ten in ten countries and added much to the success of their network television show.
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In 1979 amid the Iranian Hostage Crisis, the tune became a beacon of hope for the return of the hostages. Oak trees all over the country had yellow ribbons tied into bows as a symbol of love and support to the families of the kidnap victims. Since then, the song has come to represent the hope of positive returns of missing persons, and the safe return home of our military heroes. Tony is all about our veterans!
A few years back, he came to St. Charles to do his show at the Arcada Theatre. The big news of the day was a young teenage girl in the area who had been missing. As soon as he arrived, he asked me about the girl, and if I knew the family. I did not know the girl, but the family was local. We found a yellow plastic tablecloth in the dressing rooms so we ripped a piece off and tied it into a yellow bow. Tony signed it with words of hope and faith. I got it to the family and they were emotional and thrilled. The girl showed up two days later. A happy ending.
When I opened my first Rock ‘N Ravioli Restaurant in Evanston, I was on the phone with Tony about another issue. We talked about the grand opening and he sensed how excited I was. As I was about to cut the ribbon on opening night, who shows up at the front door? Tony Orlando! Surprise! How about that for a buddy?
When it came time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his group, Tony Orlando & Dawn, which theater got the “official” 50th anniversary show? You guessed it … The Arcada Theatre!
Tony, along with original television show and group members Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson, arrived the night before and we had dinner together. To see their faces (ageless) all together was a thrill and a throwback to my younger, simpler years. Memories of their variety show, the “Sonny & Cher Show,” Carol Burnett and several others flashed before my eyes. And to sit with them as THEY reminisced about those early days was simply awe-inspiring.
How they got the news about the show and their favorite guests (he said he had no actual favorites, but loved Jerry Lewis and Jackie Gleason) was so cool to hear about. They told me how they met during Telma’s Motown years as both ladies sang backup for many stars, including Marvin Gaye.
He talked about how in one year he lost his 20-year-old sister to cerebral palsy, his best friend Freddie Prinze committed suicide at age 22, and his show was canceled. He stopped singing at the time and faced great depression. It was a pretty deep conversation. But he got through it and returned to the stage, thank goodness.
Then, backstage before their show, I stood with Tony, Telma and Joyce as their show opened with rare video footage of the original TV show. It was the first time they all watched the footage together. Seeing the looks on their faces was something I will never forget, and sharing that moment with the three of them will remain one of my favorite career memories.
Tony has never disappointed with his live show as his voice is as golden as ever. He is the epitome of a showman, still with that warmth that melts every member of the audience. I must say that he is among my absolute favorites, not just as a performer, but as a brother, an icon and as a human being.
Tony’s show is definitely a stroll down “Memory Lane” as the audience become as much of the part of the show as he is with the singalong to every tune. His demeanor is one that truly “hugs” the audience.
Tony Orlando appears this Saturday, Nov. 5, at The Des Plaines Theatre, and Sunday, Nov. 6, at The Arcada Theatre. Logon to oshows.com or call (630) 962-7000 for great seats!
Come to the show — you will be glad you did, guaranteed! And just walk in — don’t bother knocking three times … our door is always open!
• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of the Onesti Entertainment Corp. and the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.