Do you remember when rock was young? Are you in a New York state of mind? Then Geva Theatre (celebrating their 40th year anniversary) in Rochester, NY has a show for you! The Tribute to Sir Elton John and Billy Joel is in town until August 11th. A great date night treat!
We decided to hit the dueling divas show out of sheer curiosity and Lisa’s love for the man in feathers. The Elton John impersonator, Joel Mason, comes from Vegas and the Billy Joel impersonator, David James, hails from the fair city of Rochester. Having never seen an impersonator before, why not go see two at once? We didn’t know what to expect, but with two larger than life personalities being portrayed on the Mainstage at Geva, we knew it wouldn’t disappoint.
The tribute production, based on an actual series of Face To Face shows done by the real Elton John with Billy Joel, was the brainchild of Joel Mason (Elton John), and David James (Billy Joel) after meeting each other on a cruise ship they were both working on.
While the performance was nowhere near as outlandish as we had imagined it to be in our heads, the Elton John costumes were out of this world. A rainbow feather costume, wacky sunglasses, tall platform shoes, a checkered suit, and a white feather boa vest that David James (Billy Joel) told Joel Mason (Elton John) made him look like an ostrich were just a couple of the easiest attire to describe. The fact that Joel Mason spent his hard earned cash on a number of reproduction Elton John costumes made the experience all the better.
The charm and humor of the onstage banter between songs was worth the price of admission. Joel Mason’s Elton John, as a matter of fact, did not have an English accent and was not gay. I felt as if Joel was saying, “let’s be serious, you’re not at an Elton John concert, but I look hilarious dressed like this, and if I put on these sunglasses while you all sing along, you just might allow your imagination to take you away.” Joel did an outstanding job of hamming it up for the crowd, lying on the floor with his right hand to his ear while his left hand still played a piano solo above his head.
Yes, the impersonators’ really play the piano during the performance and they are outstanding players. Joel also would heckle the audience a bit to engage them in audience participation, like when he started the song Rocket Man and only a few people cheered. Joel abruptly stopped the song and said in a comedic way, “you know, on the west coast people go wild with applause and cheer right when I start singing the first three words, maybe I picked the wrong song to play.” The audience gasped “no!” Which sent Joel into an impromptu rendition of Feelings that didn’t last long but set the crowd up to be ready to make some noise when he started Rocket Man over again. Lisa was giggling her face off, I noticed as I looked around the theatre the rest of the audience was eating it up, too. Mason’s brand of spandex drenched audience participation worked like a group hug after a family misunderstanding. Mason also brought his cutie pie four-month-old daughter on stage to join in the fun, threatening to change her soiled diaper on David James’ piano, keeping the crowd in awwwwww.
Lisa and I were sitting on the side, which David James (Billy Joel) performed. He would do three or four songs after Joel Mason (Elton John) played three or four songs. The mini sets gave the performers time for multiple costume changes. James is really an impressive pianist and when he flew into a rendition of Root Beer Rag we were blown away. He didn’t just confine his performance to the piano either, picking up a straight mic stand and singing all over the stage to It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me. James worked his way into the crowd having the audience sing along and sprinkling them with high fives, the Brooklyn Italian way. Having read that he had previously been a part of the Billy Joel musical Moving Out, he naturally had no problem playing any of the songs from The Stranger album.
The highlight of the show for us was when the two divas battled it out onstage, always trying to one up each other and steal the spotlight. During one spirited rendition of an Elton John song, James cockily takes off one shoe and uses it to play a perfect piano solo, prompting Mason to follow suit, which doesn’t work for him as well because he’s wearing sparkly platforms. Reaching the pinnacle of diva-dom, both the players had to have the last ‘note’ which leads to an off mike onstage squabble that has the voice of their manager thundering overhead, warning them to be supportive of one another or there would be dire consequences. I imaged Steve the manager withholding James’ ration of Italian sausage sandwiches and tearing some sequins off Mason’s platform shoes.
It was a fun, spirited performance and Mason and James’ admiration for John and Joel really warmed the crowd and had everyone rocking in their seats and singing along to favorite tunes. While I was hoping for a live band and outlandish rolling theatre style sets, the performers’ charm, talent, and dueling diva style made up for the lack of ‘extras’. We liked it best when the film projector, on which they were showing clips of Joel and John videos during certain songs, was turned off. We felt that with the projections off, it drew the audience in together in a more intimate way that made the performance feel real and free of distraction. Their performance had Lisa singing Elton/Joel songs all over the office on Friday. Definitely check out this show for a fun date night or an introduction for your kids to two legendary music men.
-Blaqart and Storm-
For show times and to buy tickets visit http://www.gevatheatre.org/plays/tribute.php