This preview has been provided by the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra

by David L. Nelson

Playing the lead in “Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway. Being handpicked by Luciano Pavarotti to be his private student. Starring in “Godfather Part 3”. What do these have in common? Simple. The person in all three was Franc D’Ambrosio, an extremely talented singer and actor. And we can add a fourth accolade to this list. Franc will be performing with the Greensboro Symphony in a special Salute to Hollywood on Valentine’s Day.

All of these are impressive, but perhaps the most noteworthy is his role as the Phantom in Andrew Lloyd Weber’s famous musical. Most leads on Broadway remain in a show for one or two years, but Franc played the title character for more than six. In excess of five million theater-goers saw him play this icon of the musical stage. In doing so, he was nicknamed “The Iron Man of the Mask” and later received a special award entitled “The Longest Running Phantom”. Quite a feat.

Playing Al Pacino’s Son

The “Godfather” trilogy is one of the most successful sets of motion pictures Hollywood has ever produced. After the first two “Godfathers” were smash hits, Paramount Pictures spared no expense to make sure the cast for Part 3 would be the best. One of the characters was Anthony Corleone, the son of Godfather Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino.

To find just the right combination of an actor and singer to play this pivotal role, five talent scouts began a two year search that took them throughout the globe. In the end, they had to look no further than New York, where they found Franc D’Ambrosio in the chorus of his first Broadway show. (This was before he became the Phantom.) And not only did Franc play the son in the film, he also sang “Speak Softly Love” which was in the soundtrack that was later nominated for an Academy Award.

Luciano Pavarotti’s Private Student

This recording was heard around the world. And one set of ears who heard it belonged to the late Luciano Pavarotti. The renowned Italian tenor was so taken by it that he invited D’Ambrosio to travel to Italy to study privately with the master himself. As one might imagine, Franc did not hesitate in accepting the invitation.

Of course, playing in a hit show on Broadway in front of more than five million people was bound to attract a lot of attention. This actually led to Franc’s next job. Barry Manilow was so impressed with the actor portraying the “Phantom” that he hired D’Ambrosio as the first “Tony” in Manilow’s new musical “Copacabana”. Franc was the lead for more than a year in the pre-Broadway tour and was nominated for the National Theatre Award for Best Male Performer in a Musical.

Like Greensboro’s Ice Skating Championships

Franc’s varied experiences even relate to the recent Ice Skating championships at the Greensboro Coliseum. Skaters need their music to be just right. And D’Ambrosio was hand-picked by Olympic Champion Brian Boitano to perform on the skater’s NBC special “Brian Boitano’s Skating Spectacular” where he sang with “American Idol” runner-up Diana De Garmo.

Boitano had Franc return in “The 2005 Tribute to Movies on Ice”. This time Franc appeared with Michael Bolton and another “American Idol” star, Kimberly Locke. His performance of “Music of the Night” skated to by Boitano, received the evenings only standing ovation. Boitano does not have a monopoly of D’Ambrosio’s “skating” music however. In 2008, Franc performed with Dorothy Hamill.

Hollywood’s Classic Songs

The Valentine’s Day concert at the Westover Church will have Franc singing some of Hollywood’s most beloved tunes. There will be Fred Astaire’s classics like “Singing in the Rain”, “Steppin’ Out”, and “Putting on the Ritz”, ballads like “Moon River”, “The Impossible Dream”, “Some Enchanted Evening”, and “Danny Boy”, and, of course, a medley from “Phantom of the Opera.” The song that gave D’Ambrosio so much attention, “Speak Softly Love” will be performed. And what tribute to Hollywood would be complete without perhaps the most iconic movie song ever, “As Time Goes By” from “Casablanca”.

The “Phantom”, Pavarotti’s hand-picked student, and the Godfather’s son. Franc D’Ambrosio brings this impressive background to Greensboro on Valentine’s Day. It’s not every day that such a performer graces our local stage. And you won’t need “an offer you can’t refuse” to attend.