Pair puts on virtuoso display of music and comedy in benefit for Rotary Club of The Villages

Alex Santoriello singing Wednesday night at Savannah Center.
Alex Santoriello singing Wednesday night at Savannah Center.

Alex Santoriello has blazed his way on The Villages entertainment scene like a flaming comet racing across a black sky.
Santoriello burned bright again Wednesday, with an explosive and electrifying performance in Savannah Center. The Broadway veteran — who moved to The Villages two years ago — appeared with national comic Gary DeLena in a show named “Call It What You Will.” They perform again Thursday at 7 in Savannah Center, with Ken McBride on piano. Proceeds will be donated to Rotary Club of The Villages.
Santoriello was in vintage form. He sang deep from the gut on “Bring Him Home,” from “Les Miserables.” Santoriello was in the original Broadway cast of that production. He nearly equaled that emotional output with “The Impossible Dream” from “Man of La Mancha.” Santoriello starred and directed that musical last year in The Villages.

Alex Santoriello, left, and Gary DeLena teamed up to benefit The Rotary Club of The Villages.
Alex Santoriello, left, and Gary DeLena teamed up to benefit The Rotary Club of The Villages.

And he finished with a wild, high-kicking medley of “New York New York,” “Delilah” and “Mack the Knife.” The first few rows of Savannah Center turned into a chorus line, with audience members kicking up their heels and singing-a-long.
DeLena and Santoriello have known each other 30 years and are fresh off selling out six, local performances of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

But on this night the man who played Jesus (DeLena) and the guy who was Judas (Santoriello) presented a virtuoso display of music and comedy, while creating the funky atmosphere of a piano bar.
“I love this; this is what I do and this is where I belong,” said DeLena, who played an electric guitar while goofing on such music acts as the Rolling Stones, Billy Joel, Keith Urban, Willie Nelson and Carrie Underwood.

Comic Gary DeLena played songs and told jokes.
Comic Gary DeLena played songs and told jokes.

DeLena was on for nearly an hour, telling jokes, playing songs and kibitzing with the audience. His clean-humor subject matter included old age, airplanes, sex, rap music, his hometown of Brooklyn, and Florida drivers.
“Florida is home to the world’s (worst) drivers,” he said. “I call them knuckleheads because all you see are their knuckles and their heads. And most of them come from New York.”
On being searched by security at the Newark Airport: “In Newark, the people who search you, look like the people who should be searched.”
On his childhood days as an altar boy: “I got in trouble. I used to play ‘Louie Louie’ on the bells during Mass.”
On Canada: “How you doing, Canadians. Do me a favor. Take Justin Bieber with you back to Canada. We’ll trade you for Justin Trudeau. They’re about the same age.”
Santoriello came on stage for the second half of the show percolating with nervous energy.
“I’m a guy who never gets nervous, but tonight I am,” he confessed to the audience. “I’m so tense I left my Fitbit back in the dressing room.”
Once he started singing, the shaky nerves fueled an intense performance. He opened with “I Write the Songs,” and played the lounge singer with passion.
But that was just a warm up.

Ken McBride played piano for the show.
Ken McBride played piano for the show.

When Santoriello sang “Bring Him Home” and “The Impossible Dream,” it was a classic Broadway, goose-bump performance by a true big-leaguer.
In just two years, Santoriello has changed the dynamic here for local performers. He is a pro’s pro; a performer who elevates the talent and effort of those around him.
“I’ve known Alex for years and I’m not surprised,” DeLena said. “He’s a tremendous talent and teacher.”
Why the nerves on Wednesday?
“I don’t know; I haven’t done this kind of a show in a long time,” Santoriello said. He used to do those kind of shows nightly when he ran a piano bar in Barbados for eight years.
“I always wanted to that, but be careful what you wish for,” he said. “I wound up singing every night. It was tough.”
On this night, Santoriello was up to the singing challenge once more.
“I loved getting up there and singing,” he said. “But I’m glad it’s over.”