By Joel Benjamin
Dominic Chianese has mastered the art of artlessness. We might just as well have been sitting in Mr. Chianese’s kitchen, listening to him ramble lovingly through his life, singing off-the-cuff renditions of everything from classic American Songbook songs to Neapolitan folk ditties—except, of course, for the fact that this program was as carefully crafted as the slickest Las Vegas act. It was a lovely expression of Mr. Chianese’s strengths and even a few fragilities. Strangely, he hardly mentioned his career-defining role on The Sopranos, choosing rather to concentrate on his early life in an intensely supportive New York Italian family and his struggles to gain a foothold in show business.
Joined by Mark Sica on guitar and Art Weiss on piano—two musicians who seemed to read his mind—the dapper Mr. Chianese began with “Wrap Your Troubles” (Harry Barris, Ted Koehler & Billy Moll), an expression of his casual philosophy of life, achieved after much living. “Ferryboat Serenade” (Eldo DiLazzaro/Mario Panzeri) was a charming, folksy tune about the pleasures of riding this little ship while “Heart of My Heart” (Ben Ryan), a popular song from the twenties, was the kind of song Mr. Chianese sang on the streets with his pals.
The son of a bricklayer, Mr. Chianese knew the value of having a backup job, especially since his performing career was stop and go, mostly stop. He spent years as a musical therapist in senior centers which gave him an appreciation of the power of music. From a stint in a Jacques Brel musical, he sang the tongue-twister “Jackie,” and from Oliver!, “Reviewing the Situation,” Fagin’s comic consideration of his life, giving both a street-smart interpretation. His take on Leonard Cohen’s “Sisters of Mercy” was charmingly literal. “Glory of Love” (William Joseph Hill), which featured a lovely guitar solo by Mr. Sica, was followed by “Guantanamera,” a Cuban folksong which Mr. Chianese first heard on the set of The Godfather Two in which he had an important role.
He spoke lovingly of his wife who was in the audience and told many charming anecdotes about his family. He concluded with three Neapolitan songs which dealt with love, friendship and “Mama.”
Dominic Chianese’s show was a summation of his life, in miniature. At his age, well into his eighties, he still managed to get through a generous program, holding his audience in the palm of his hand.
Dominic Chianese at the Café Carlyle
April 2, 2014
The Carlyle Hotel
35 East 76th St. at Madison Ave.
New York, NY
Reservations and Information about Upcoming Shows: 212-744-1600 or www.thecarlyle.com