Michael Cavanaugh is an actor, pianist, and vocalist focusing on the American rock ‘n’ roll canon. He was chosen by Billy Joel to star in the Broadway musical “Movin’ Out” and received both a Tony and a Grammy nomination in 2003 for his performance. In 2005, he began touring with his own show for private events and venues in which he interprets the songs of Billy Joel and Elton John. In 2008, Mr. Cavanaugh began accepting orchestral bookings for this show and, in 2012, added another show featuring the music of Paul Simon, James Taylor, and Neil Diamond. He has also toured with two other symphony shows including a Christmas Pops performance and the music of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Mr. Cavanaugh has released two albums and received the “Entertainer of the Year” award from Reuters.
The evening opened with a welcome by Mark Hanson, President and CEO of the BSO. He explained that, in tribute to and in memory of the lives recently lost in Israel and Gaza, the orchestra would first perform “Elegy for Cello and Orchestra,” composed by John Williams. It was a short but beautiful piece followed by a minute of silence.
Colored lights were projected on hanging curtains surrounding the stage. The BSO was positioned upstage with Mr. Cavanaugh’s drummer, John Fedevich, in the center and the conductor, Christopher Dragon, downstage. The rest of the band consisted of Tony Koussa (synthesizer), Eric Tewalt (saxophone), James Oleson (guitar), and Billy Venditti (bass). They wore all black jackets and shirts in contrast to the BSO players in white. Mr. Cavanaugh was in stark contrast, casually dressed in blue short-sleeved shirt, black pants and sneakers. His piano skills, matching his singing skills, were animated and at full volume, playing in the style of Billy Joel and Elton John. He sat on a swivel piano stool rather than a bench and had to adjust the level several times in the midst of songs by standing up and bending over. While singing and playing the piano vigorously, he would sometimes move the microphone with his head. Mr. Cavanaugh encouraged the audience to clap and sing along. For some selections, he did not play the piano and put songs together in a “party medley.”
While the program gave a full biography of Mr. Cavanaugh, there was no information about the conductor or the composers. Though it stated that all songs would be announced from the stage, not all were, giving the impression that they would be so recognizable that it was not necessary. There were musical medleys opening both parts of the program and very well-played solo spots for the band members in some of the selections. Highlights from Elton John’s catalog included “Rocket Man,” “Yellow Brick Road,” “Pinball Wizard,” and “Your Song.“ From Billy Joel’s catalog were “Piano Man,” “Just the Way You Are,” and his latest release, “River of Dreams.” Also of interest was the BSO playing “Waltz #1 (Nunley’s Carousel)” from the album “Opus 1-10, Fantasies and Delusions” written by Billy Joel and released in 2001. The orchestra was also featured in a medley of well-known pop “riffs” after Mr. Cavanaugh explained the difference between a “riff” and a “motif.”
Onstage, Mr. Cavanaugh told the audience about his website, social media platforms, his two recordings for sale in the lobby after the concert, and encouraged the audience to check him out on social media during intermission. Food and drinks were offered in the lobby pre-concert (drinks were allowed in the hall), a DJ spun pop tunes before and after the concert, and karaoke was set up for audience participation after the concert. While symphonies are working to appeal to a broader audience, one wonders what the ghosts of former renowned BSO conductors (Reginald Stewart, Massimo Freccia, Peter Adler, and Sergiu Comissiona) would have thought.
Running Time: Two hours with one intermission.
“Music of Billy Joel and Elton John” was performed on October 12, 2023 by Michael Cavanaugh with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at The Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda MD 20852 (1-877-276-1444). The show was also performed on October 14 and 15, 2023 at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral Street, Baltimore MD 21201. For information and to purchase tickets for upcoming concerts, please call the Box Office at either location or visit online. The Box Office at both locations is open Mon.-Fri., 10 am – 5 pm and Sat.-Sun., 12 noon-5 pm., 60 minutes before each performance, and through intermission for walk-up sales.