By Karen Isaacs
If you grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s you undoubtedly listened and danced to songs by Dion and the Belmonts. Later it was just Dion alone.
Dion DiMucci, who grew up in the Bronx, has written a musical with Charles Messina focusing on his early career. Seven Angels Theatre is presenting Rock ‘n Roll Redemption – The Story and The Music of Dion DiMucci through June 17.
If you expect this to be just another Jersey Boys, you may be disappointed. For Dion has not glossed over his warts. It may surprise some of you to know that he was almost on the plane that killed Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Richie Valens. He was touring with the group and would have been on the small chartered plane instead of Valens except he would not spend the $36, his share of the cost.
The play opens with this and from there goes back to his teenage years in the Belmont section of the Bronx. His father was a failed entertainer – he used marionettes – and tried to rule the unruly Dion with an iron hand that did not work. Early in his teenage years, we see that Dion is shooting up with heroin – an addiction that he doesn’t sugarcoat in the story.
This is also a story of the artist fighting “the establishment” to fulfill his own vision. Here, Dion battles his father and his producers, Gene and Bob Schwartz to include his guitar in his recordings. Their philosophy is give the people what they expect and want; if it isn’t broke don’t fix it.
But of course, eventually it does get broke – his records don’t sell – and he does move into a different phase in his music.
Interwoven is the story of his romance with Susan Butterfield whom he married and is still married to today. She is the typical understanding and supportive wife though she is sorely tested by his heroin addiction.
The latter may distress some audience members who want their teen memories to be as clean as they remember them.
The show doesn’t cover Dion’s later career as a Christian singer, then his return to rock ‘n’ roll which continues to this day.
Director Semina De Laurentis, Janine Molinari (musical staging) and Brent C. Mauldin (music director/arranger) have done a good job with this rather episodic piece.
They have assembled a cast that can play a variety of roles and convincingly sing the ‘50s doo-wop music.
As Dion, Matthew Dailey (who has appeared in Jersey Boys) brings out the anger and resistance to authority in the character. He also handles the music expertly. Anna Laura Strider is perky and supportive as Susan and JP Sarro is arrogant and a know-it-all as Dion’s father.
The biggest part of the show is the music – the songs that Dion wrote (“Donna The Prima Donna,” “Runaround Sue,” “Sweet Surrender” and more) – plus the songs that he recorded as well as those recorded by others. Thus we get songs from Holly, the Big Bopper and Valens as well as “Honky Tonk Blues,” “Teenager in Love,” “I Wonder Why” and “The Wanderer.” The show ends with his 1967 recording of “Abraham, Martin & John.”
The humor is supplied by John Little and Joel Robertson as the Schwartz brothers, his producers. They have a recurring shtick of one interrupting and going on and on and on to the other’s annoyance.
If this is the music that you grew up with or love, you will enjoy Rock ‘n’ Roll Redemption: the Story and The Music of Dion DiMucci.
For tickets, contact Seven Angels Theatre. or call 203-757-4676.