Broadway's long-running 'Phantom' brings the Great White Way to Milwaukee

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dambrosio

Singer Franc D’Ambrosio was taught at an early age to capitalize on his talents, which led to his current career on Broadway.

“I grew up in a family of Italian bakers in the Bronx, so music and singing were part of our culture,” says D’Ambrosio, who turns 50 on Aug. 11. “My ‘aha’ moment came when I was in the fifth grade and realized my voice was louder than anyone else’s.”

Volume is only one of D’Ambrosio’s skills. He’s parlayed his vibrant tenor and seamless legato style into a string of successful performances on screen and stage, including as one of Broadway’s longest-running leads in Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Phantom of the Opera.”

His Milwaukee fans will have the opportunity to enjoy D’Ambrosio’s talents in person on Aug. 28, when “Franc D’Ambrosio’s Broadway” takes the stage at Marcus Center for the Performing Arts’ Peck Pavilion. He’s looking forward to the visit.

“My grandmother was from Milwaukee and I love the city,” D’Ambrosio says. “It always brings back good memories.”

If “A Star is Born” had been written about a man, it could have been the story of the little boy from the Bronx with the large voice. After high school, D’Ambrosio studied at the Hartt School, the performing arts academy of the University of Hartford, Conn., that focuses on music, dance and theater. He also attended the Vocal Academy in Lucca, Italy.

D’Ambrosio was appearing in the first revival of Stephan Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” on Broadway – the singer’s first professional performance – when he was tapped to play the role of Anthony Corleone, the son of Michael Corleone in the 1990 film ‘The Godfather: Part III.” The singer’s casting as the ruthless gangster’s opera-singing son ended a nearly two-year talent search for producers at Paramount Pictures. It also was D’Ambrosio’s first experience with the movies.

“The switch from the Broadway stage to the film set was challenging,” says D’Ambrosio. “But the highlight was working with Al Pacino (Michael Corleone) and Diane Keaton (Michael’s ex-wife Kay and Anthony’s mother.) They took me under their wings, taught me film acting techniques and kept an eye on me.”

D’Ambrosio also was asked to sing “Speak Softly Love,” the film’s love song, on “The Godfather: Part III” soundtrack recording.

Appearing in the last installment of one the greatest film franchises provided an international showcase for D’Ambroiso’s operatic talent. As Anthony, the singer performed the lead role in Mascagni’s “Cavalleria rusticana.” His performance attracted the attention of another Italian tenor – Luciano Pavarotti – who asked D’Ambrosio to come to Italy and spend three months studying with him.

“He was the most generous artist I ever worked with. We ate, sang and laughed a lot,” D’Ambrosio says. “He taught me some vocal techniques, but most importantly he taught me how to integrate the rigors of being a professional singer into my life.”

D’Ambrosio’s lucky star continued to shine. Following his “Godfather” appearance, the singer found himself auditioning for a production of “Miss Saigon.” He had made it as one of the finalists, when his career took another fateful turn.

“After they heard me sing, they told me I was auditioning for the wrong Broadway show and sent me down the block to audition for ‘Phantom,’” he says.

D’Ambrosio went on to more than 2,000 performances of the masked impressario, making him one of the longest-running “phantoms” in the history of the show. It also earned him the title “The Iron Man in the Mask” moniker for his continued stamina in performing “Music of the Night.”

Impressive? Wait, there’s more.

Following “Phantom,” D’Ambrosio worked with a New York consortium of artists attempting to mount a production of “Valentino,” which was based on the life of the Italian designer Valentino Garavani, not the silent film star Rudolph Valentino. It was during this period that he caught the eye of pianist Barry Manilow, who cast him as Tony, the lead in the musical “Copacabana,” based on Manilow’s hit song. The show lasted a year and earned D’Ambrosio a National Theater Award nomination for Best Male Performer in a Musical.

Which brings us to “Franc D’Ambrosio’s Broadway,” conceived in 2004, and D’Ambrosio’s perspective on making it on the Great White Way. First, the singer suggests, would-be performers need to get in tune with their lives.

“There was a lot of social pressure growing up to act, be and talk like everyone else,” he says. “Choosing to be an individual and standing up for what I felt was right for me and my life path was one o the biggest challenges I faced as a young person.”

Next, he says, make sure you are ready for what Broadway throws at you. Only the strong survive, and not even all of them make the cut.

“Make sure you are prepared. You only have one chance to make a good first impression,” he says. “And make sure that you need to sing and perform for your life.  Just wanting this might not be enough to get you through all the bull it will take to get you to your professional show.”

Two days prior to his Aug. 28 appearance, D’Ambrosio will perform at a private residence in the area for the lucky winners of a bid to help support the Milwaukee Ballet.

During the time between performances, the Broadway star will soak up the Milwaukee memories of his past, anchoring his present success with his past reminisces.

On stage

“Franc D’Ambrosio’s Broadway” comes to the Peck Pavilion stage at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts on Aug. 28. For details, go to www.marcuscenter.org.

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