Presented by Out of the Square Matinee Series
Reviewed 12 August 2016
Tribute acts can take many different forms from exactly replicating the performer’s style, voice and look to simply performing their famous musical numbers. Billy: My Life utilises a series of videos that catalogue Billy Joel’s successes and failures linked together by songs from the period. These songs are performed by a trio of musicians comprising of Anthony Marafioti on vocals and piano, Pep Belcaro on guitar and Jason Russo on drums. Performing the works of a much loved performer is always a risk and this tribute, although not terrible, does come across as a disappointment.
The biggest problem with this production comes from glaring sound issues, making the show almost unlistenable. Russo’s drums are so much louder than the other instruments, that they are simply amplified to max in order to be heard.This muddies the sounds causing the piano and vocals – elements central to Joel’s music – difficult to discern. This could be an issue related to the theatre-in-the-round space and may be rectified at the other venues in this tour.
These sound issues make the quality of the performers difficult to identify. Marafioti has a nice voice that sounds somewhat like Joel but lacks the emotion that many of these songs require. His piano skills are exquisite and he brings the most out of these arrangements. Russo rings loud and clear over the top of the other instruments and plays clearly. It is Belcaro who probably suffers worst from the sound issues as his back-up singing is inaudible and his guitar playing quiet. What was heard was well played and complimented the other two musicians well.
The entire show was aligned to backing tracks that supplied other instruments and backing vocals. The instrumentalists should be commended for their seamless ability to remain perfectly in time with a pre-recorded backing. These backing tracks did offer a lot of other instruments with even piano continuing even when Marafioti wasn’t playing. This, alongside sound issues, made it difficult to identify just how much of the music was being played live.
Even with these issues, Joel’s music is still a joy to listen to and the documentary-styled videos offer interesting insights into his life and the way he wrote his music. Tribute shows such as this are primarily for pre-existing fans and, if they can put up with intense volume, they’re sure to be bopping along to many of Billy Joel’s greatest hits.
Reviewed by Nathan Quadrio