Musical Theater

When two legendary “piano men” such as Sir Elton John and Billy Joel combine forces to appear on the same stage, it stands to reason the night will be an explosion of music unlike any other.
The energy created when Elton John and Billy Joel set foot on the same stage sparks an infectious excitement that cannot be contained in one show, so those two powerful forces have toured together time and again to sell-out crowds all over the globe. When veteran performers Tony Monaco (Turnstiles tribute band) and Kenny Metcalf decided to bring their collective talents together to recreate the magic of John and Joel, they knew everything had to be just right because fans of the men and their music expect nothing less.
Their show “Billy Joel 2 Elton John” appears in Don’s Celebrity Theater for the first time, bringing a promise of high energy, interactive rock ‘n’ roll, with each performer getting his time in the spotlight before the finale, where the men play together on separate pianos while sharing lyrics on each other’s songs.
Billy Joel tribute artist Monaco is a New York native and a lifelong fan of the “Piano Man,” and used that inspiration to grow as a pianist, vocalist and songwriter. His song list includes familiar Joel tunes such as “Only the Good Die Young” and, of course, “Piano Man,” songs that were top 40 hits when they were released, as well as lesser known numbers, including “Big Shot” and “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant” that are standards for serious Billy Joel fans.
Metcalf, who dons the iconic sunglasses and bedazzled suits of Elton John for hit songs like “Rocket Man,” “Crocodile Rock,” and “Bennie & the Jets,” is the producer and creator of this show. He is known as one of the top tribute artists worldwide. The L.A. native’s spot-on performances embody stellar musicianship, copy-cat vocal accuracy and stage antics that have gained him countless accolades from fans and peers in the entertainment industry.
While the show is new to the Riverside Resort, Metcalf has performed his Elton John tribute here before. There’s no doubt the audience will be singing along, possibly forgetting these guys are a tribute.
Metcalf performs both as a stand-alone Elton John tribute and works with various Billy Joels as well.
“Actually, there is a demand for both shows,” he told the Laughlin entertainer. “I work with three different Billy Joels, Michael Santoro most of the time, and our Elton John tribute is 98 percent of everything we do, but when the Billy Joel portion is in demand, we fire up the show.
“When I work with Michael Santoro, who’s on the other side of the country with his show ‘Face 2 Face,’ it’s usually his band and I join them. So when we do Billy Joel, it’s my band and whoever’s doing Billy Joel joins us.”
The show includes a saxophone player, guitarist, bass player, drummer and, of course, the two piano guys.
While portraying John wasn’t what Metcalf set out to do, John set the wheels in motion for Metcalf’s musical direction.
“Elton was the reason I became a piano player,” he said. “I was a drummer for 10 years before I played piano. When Elton’s “Bennie & The Jets” was No. 1 on the charts in 1973, that pretty much set me over the top. I told myself, ‘I gotta do that.’
“I wasn’t doing Elton stuff my whole life, just for the last 13 years,” he added. “In the ’80s, I toured with a band called Stryper. They were heavy metal and I was their original tour keyboardist. So I did that in the ’80s and we (the band) did other things along the way. But I got off the road to raise my family and my family has pretty much grown up now. My kids are in their 30s and both of my daughters are my background singers when we do our Elton show.”
Metcalf’s biggest challenge hasn’t been putting the show together, but a serious life-threatening disease that nearly claimed his life. His perspective is all about making the most of this opportunity to create the kind of show that means something to himself and the audiences he brings it to. The importance of getting it right is front and center.
“You know, I’ve pretty much been a perfectionist my whole life on things that we do in this show and that I’ve done,” Metcalf said. “I grew up with a dad that was that way — in his craft of what he did and he was a sign-maker. So I grew up in his sign shop, making neon and plastic signs, working with band saws and routers. With all my costumes, other than sewing them together, I do all the ‘blinging’ including all the rhinestones on the shoes.
“I’ve actually crafted the glasses that I wear out of plastics, and formed them and had prescriptions put in them,” he added. “I’ve been that way my whole life.
“When I was approached 13 years ago to do this, I was actually coming off a death bed, literally. I lived through something I shouldn’t have lived through — the doctors didn’t have a cure for the auto-immune disease that hit me and took me to death’s door. I lived through it, and three years after living through that portion of it, I was still in recovery, and they still continue to monitor me nine years later. I’m one of the only ones in the world to have survived it.
“In the process, a friend approached me, saying ‘You always kind of sounded like Elton and tributes are playing the same kinds of venues that you played when you toured with Stryper, so why don’t you give it a shot.’
“He actually is the one who got me out of bed and I started to attempt going after this,” Metcalf said. “I sat down at my keyboard and I recorded ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.’ My wife had come home from work and she said, ‘Is that you or is that Elton?’ So I said, ‘let’s give this thing a try.’
“I approached the show — I patterned the way the show is done after how the Fab Four do theirs. They’re a Beatles tribute, really good friends of mine but the professionalism of every angle they did from costuming to when they walk on stage impressed me. It’s not Artie the bass player of the Fab Four when he’s on stage, he’s Paul McCartney and you don’t break character. So we decided to go at it from that standpoint. It’s going to be musical theater.
“When we walk on stage you’re seeing a live musical production. And so when I walk on stage, I’m Elton John, I don’t break character until the end when I introduce the band and the show is over. I want to be as close to Elton as possible, from the vocals to the costuming.”
All of his efforts have paid off because Metcalf has earned the reputation as being one of the best tribute artists in the business today.
“I got a break four years ago,” he said. “Ryan Seacrest and Mark Cuban found me on YouTube and they were creating a show that hadn’t even been out yet, and it was on AXS TV, their network, and it’s called ‘The World’s Greatest Tribute Bands.’
“I was on Episode 5, Season 1 and there were 40 million viewers. It was a live national broadcast so it was a make or break you situation. Elton’s original guitarist Caleb Quaye joined me on stage to close the show and Elton’s other guitarist, Davey Johnstone, was at home watching it on TV. He gave us a thumbs up the next day, and said, ‘Tell those boys they don’t have to leave town,’ and that was nice,” he said. “Then AXS TV brought us back for Season 4 and gave us a 90-minute special to do our ‘Billy Joel 2 Elton John.’ They wanted to do the ‘Face to Face’ Billy and Elton show so we did that. Between the two TV shows that AXS gave us there were 90 million viewers. That pretty much set us aside as the premier Elton show or Billy Joel tribute.
“So it was just the right place, right time kind of thing — imagine being discovered while you’re laying in bed.”
But a tribute show to the chemistry and charisma in addition to the enormous talent of these two legendary artists lets go of the personal stuff and focuses on the business of delivering hit songs in a fun atmosphere, tied up with one big flamboyant bow.
“The point is always to have fun, and the other part is to make people happy and put smiles on their faces — and that’s what we get to do,” he said. “If people walk out of there and they have a smile on their faces and they were singing with you, then we did our job for the venue.
“Sometimes you think they’re not really into it but facial expression doesn’t really tell a story,” he added. “People will come up after the show and we hear, ‘oh, my gosh, that just blew me away.’ And they’re the people I thought were in the front row having a bad time. I’ve learned not to read faces any more. It doesn’t bear witness as to what’s going on in their heads.
“The fun part is if we do our job right, people actually feel like they were just watching Elton John and Billy Joel,” he said. “It’s gonna be a high-energy show, very fun with great musicians. The band is stellar. Each night, even if the songs are the same, there’s always going to be little twists that change things because it’s a live show. It’s musical theater from that standpoint and we don’t break character. Come out to the show, it’s gonna be a blast.”


Don’s Celebrity Theatre within the Riverside

Wednesday-Sunday, May 9-13 (8 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for tickets