Saturday, May 14, 2011

Interview with Dennis McNeil

Award winning tenor, Dennis McNeil was the 1993 National Winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. As a leading tenor at the New York City Opera he was awarded the Richard F. Gold Career Award for his portrayal as ‘Mark’ in their New York Stage Premiere of Michael Tippet’s A Midsummer Marriage. He also holds first place awards from the Southern California Opera Guild and the Victor Fuchs Memorial Competition and was a recipient of the Emily Baratelli Memorial Award from the New York Opera Index. He is a Sullivan Grant Recipient as well as a recipient of a Rex Foundation Grant from the Grateful Dead. On Sunday May 22 he will completely switch gears and perform a cabaret act @ Sterling's Upstairs @ Vitello's.

Will this cabaret be a challenging change for you?

Absolutely! I have never performed in this kind of venue with this kind of audience. Well sort of… I sang at a restaurant called Verdi in Santa Monica back in the 80s and we would do 2 or 3 shows in an evening, usually starting with the more serious Opera stuff and then a Broadway set and finishing with a variety set of lighter material. It was a blast, but it wasn’t Cabaret. The fact is that I have this full career of experience singing all over the world in all kinds of venues huge and small, and I have had many special (private) audiences in very intimate settings like cabaret, but this will be my very first ever performance in a Cabaret Club, and I am thrilled! Even though I am singing material, much of which I have sung for years, and some I am preparing for the first time for this performance, this marks a very big moment in my career. I have great respect for the legendary cabaret performers, some of whom I have been lucky enough to see at the Algonquin, Feinstein’s, or the Carlisle and I used to hang out at some of the places in the village like Don’t Tell Mama’s, 88’s, and the Duplex watching other acts. It just seems like a fun, intimate, and warm setting to share my heart and soul with a group of people that are there to be moved and touched. I hope this is the first of many future performances like this! I like the challenge and the stretch; this is a moment for growth and expansion for me!

Tell me in detail about your background in singing.

I made my New York City Opera Debut as Don Jose in Carmen on a night when the tenor was sick and I was ready to walk on and sing the role with only a few hours notice. That led to many other performances there in Carmen as well as Madama Butterfly and Michael Tippett’s Midsummer Marriage, for which I won an award. I also won the Met competition around that same time so I practically lived at Lincoln Center. I did a lot of Opera and Music Theater across the country from New Orleans, San Francisco and Los Angeles to National Tours so I can now say I have sung in every state in the US. I moved away from singing Opera about 15 years ago in order to spend more time building a new career performing at special events and concerts in order to start a family. My kids are now 14, 12 and 7 and those special performances have brought me opportunities to sing for 5 United States Presidents, The President of Mexico, and other heads of state and officials along with countless fortune 500 companies, CEOs, Charities, and Private events. I gave a concert last year accompanied by former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. I have performed with Michael Feinstein, Bruce Hornsby, Lionel Ritchie, David Foster, Steve Miller, Merv Griffin, The Grateful Dead, and so many others; I sometimes feel like Forest Gump! I have even been able to take my family to the White House to meet both the President and the Vice President in their offices in the west wing.

    What exactly will you be singing on the 22nd?

NO OPERA!!  We have a great show planned for the 22nd. I have had great guidance from my Musical Director, Ed Martel, as well as from both Michael Sterling and Joe Giamalva, who introduced me to Michael. I will have a trio (Piano, Bass and Drums) on stage with me and they are top LA players. My drummer, Bob Marino, cut his eye teeth playing gigs in his Grandfather’s society Band when he was just a kid – they played all of Marvin Davis’ parties!  His grandfather was a legend at Paramount Studios and wrote the song "That’s Amore".

The song selection for the show is fun and eclectic from Harold Arlen and Lerner and Loewe, to Hal David/Burt Bacharach, Kenny Loggins, Van Morrison, and Andrew Lloyd Weber. Since I spent 6 months touring with the legendary lyricist, Sammy Cahn, I am putting together a medley of his songs interspersed with “Sammy” memories. I recently worked with Hal David and just have to sing Alfie again too. He also wrote "A House is Not a Home", which I’ll also be singing. I’ll even work a little Harry Connick and Lalo Schifrin into the set. The bottom line is that I can’t wait to have fun with this band and this audience. I love singing and want to be singing all the time. Simply put, I am looking to create a better world by enhancing my life and the lives of all those around me through impactful extraordinary live music performances, and on Sunday May 22nd at Sterling’s Upstairs at Vitello’s,  that is exactly what I hope to do.

Remember Sunday, May 22. Call for reservations: 818-754-8700 or visit:

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