On Saturday evening, at the Italian American Club (IAC) on East Sahara, my friend of a great many years, Gene Ferrari, will step onto the stage in a wave of energy that almost crackles. He will flash his contagious grin to the audience, seizing his microphone and will fill the showroom with a rolling tenor that stirs the romantic imagination
Gene’s classically elegant style, both in performance and in attire, begs comparison to such great romantic singers as Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck. But, even though Humperdinck was a mentor and early influence, Gene’s way of delighting audiences with the music they love, and some they are enjoying for the first time, is distinctively his own.
Gene grew up in Egypt, where his father owned a Fiat dealership. But when Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser “nationalized” (translation: confiscated) the nation’s businesses, the Ferrari family returned to Sicily. Back home, despite their Italian citizenship, they were placed in a refugee camp.
“I knew then that I would always be a second class citizen in Italy because of the refugee status,” he recalls. “I needed a bigger world in which to be myself.” So he recruited four musicians, created his own club and lounge act, and took off to seek his fortune. Over the next decade, the road led to Europe, where he and his group became regulars at military clubs on NATO bases, and around Asia Minor and the Middle East, from Istanbul to Beirut. At the Top of the Hilton in Rome, two American promoters caught the Gene Ferrari Show and offered to bring Gene to the United States.
Englebert Humperdinck came to one of his American shows in New Jersey one night. “He came back every night,” Gene remembers fondly. “Then Englebert did something very generous: he sent for me, sat me down, and explained to me everything I was doing wrong. He taught me how to be polished, which I learned quickly was not easy to accomplish. The idea is to make it look easy. “He said, ‘Our paths will cross again, and when they do, you are welcome backstage.’ Well, that was the real education. To be back there and see the ins and outs of the show. I think of it as my graduate school in entertainment.”
By 1979, Gene, by then a solo act, had worked his way to Las Vegas, as the headliner in the Aladdin Hotel lounge. Soon thereafter, he was opening for Don Rickles, and had the amazing experience of seeing his name under Rickles’ on the classic glittering neon marquee of the Stardust Hotel. Gene toured with Rickles through 2010. He “I felt like (James) Cagney in that movie, what was it? (“White Heat”) I wanted to shout out, ‘Top of the world, Ma!’
“I thank Rickles for that,” Gene says. “He didn’t have to allow my name up there. The main act always has the right of approval of such things.”In the 80s, Gene’s stature grew as a well-known and well-loved opening act. “It’s an art unto itself,” he says. “The people are there to see the star, and you never, ever try to upstage him or her. You get 22 minutes, though Rickles, Jackie Mason and Joan Rivers all generously gave me 35. You come out and you have no more than three minutes to grab them. “I like to surprise people. I open with a ballad, not the usual up-tempo number. I’ll joke around in a self-effacing way: ‘They needed somebody to kill some time before the big spenders get here.’ Then I proceed to show them how well I can sing.
Gene says his show is “a musical conversation between me and the audience. I don’t insult their taste by giving them clichés. You’ll never hear me sing ‘Feelings.’ Ten songs don’t make it a show. You have to establish rapport, a mutual liking of each other, and sustain it.“
His repertoire is vast – when he is the headliner, he does two hours easily – and highly eclectic. He has a two and a half octave range and, thanks to his world travels, is fluent in several languages. On any given night, he might range from Bon Jovi to Nat ‘King’ Cole. Or he might segue from an Italian standard like “Il Mondo” to a less familiar song from a Broadway show.
He has no gimmicks (“no acrobats’). Nor does he do the sort of material that was once called “blue” but is now, Gene believes, sadly becoming the norm. Musical mastery coupled with European charisma and old-fashioned dignity has earned Gene a loyal following and a reputation for excellence that endures into his third decade as an American singer. And being a loyal American is something Gene counts among his most cherished achievements. “I earned my citizenship the old-fashioned way,” he says. “When I was applying for my papers, the guy there asked me if I wanted him to put down dual citizenship, United States and Italy. “I said, ‘No, thanks. Just American will do.’ It’s still that way. First and foremost, I am an American.”
Show time for the Gene Ferrari Show is 8:00 p.m on October 3rd, with the 12-piece Mariano Longo Orchestra on stage; Ferrari will perform songs from ballads to classics that everyone wants to hear. Tickets are $20.00, and can be purchased in advance by calling 702-457-3866.
THIS AND THAT QUICKLY:
This is the week all you worshipers of the “Back to the Future Trilogy” have been waiting for. Yep, it’s a special week at the Laugh Factory inside the New Tropicana, for it marks the return of “Biff” as portrayed by Tom Wilson, who will be headlining beginning Thursday to Sunday (Sept. 24-27).
Wilson will be helping the popular comedy club celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the classic movie. Tom is one of the premiere stand-up comedians in the country, boasting appearances on The Tonight with Jay Leno and Johnny Carson, David Letterman, Regis, as well as Good Morning America, The Today Show, and CBS This Morning. Internationally, he’s appeared on Tonight Live in Australia, Good Morning Great Britain, and literally hundreds of local television and radio programs around the world. He’s starred in comedy specials on NBC, Global Television in Canada, and on myriad of cable networks, and has written and performed his one man show, “Cowboy Tommy” to critical acclaim and full houses across North America.
Fanatically eager to get onstage, when Broadway didn’t answer the door quickly enough, he began performing stand-up comedy in his teens, while studying to be an actor in New York. Within a short time, he was headlining in comedy clubs up and down the east coast, and moved to Los Angeles soon after that. Accepted as a regular at the world famous “Comedy Store” on the Sunset Strip on his first audition, at 21 years old he became a member of the “Comedy Store Players,” improvising onstage with the likes of Richard Pryor, Robin Williams, and the large group of comedy colleagues who formed the nexus of the modern comedy boom.
He’s appeared in some twenty-five feature films, including his Saturn award-winning performance in the now classic “Back to the Future trilogy,” and has recently been a part of the “Sponge Bob Square Pants” phenomena, performing many voices in the Nickelodeon series, as well as the movie. Other appearances include, “Freaks and Geeks,” “Do Over,” “Titus,” “Maggie,” “Fired Up,” and has been a guest star on such classic series as “Cold Case,” “Reba,” “Boston Public,” and many more. Early in his television career, he was even chased by international mega-superstar and recording artist David Hasselhoff on the show, “Knight Rider.” Read more at http://www.backtothefuture.com/cast/tom-wilson.
Show times are 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. nightly, with tickets priced at $34.95 and $44.95. For further information call 702-739-2411.
Well, gang, there you have it…two special shows…two special guys.