The weekend of January 20-22 saw the North Carolina Symphony continue its reputation for diversity in programming by welcoming to the stage Michael Cavanaugh, Broadway’s star of the Billy Joel musical, Movin’ Out. For two hours, the orchestra rocked Meymandi Concert Hall in Raleigh with Michael Cavanaugh and his band with a contemporary repertoire from pop icon Billy Joel, with special performances of music by Elton John, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Chuck Berry. The show opened with a musical-theatre style overture from the NC Symphony, led by associate conductor Sarah Hicks. Cavanaugh made his way to the stage as the music settled into the title song from Movin’ Out. The next selection, “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” which introduced Brenda and Eddy as the main characters for the musical, showcased the talents of Cavanaugh’s saxophonist, John Scarpulla. Making his way through the audience, Scarpulla impressed the packed house with his purity of tone and exciting improvisational style. Cavanaugh, hand-picked by Billy Joel to star in Movin’ Out, delighted and moved the crowd with his effortless dexterity on the keys of the grand piano, center stage.

Both Acts I and II, full of Billy Joel staples like “Longest Time” and “New York State of Mind,” were dotted throughout with the music of other great singer/songwriters. Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock” got the crowd going with a good deal of audience participation. Cavanaugh seized every opportunity to involve the audience throughout the show, pitting house right against house left during the chorus of Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Great Balls of Fire” and encouraging sing-alongs during “You May be Right” and, of course, “Piano Man.” Cavanaugh maintained a wonderful chemistry with his supremely talented band – the aforementioned John Scarpulla on saxophone, Billy Venditti on bass, Giovanni Mastro on guitar, Jamie Hosmer on keyboard, and Johnny Fedevich on drums. While “Goodnight Saigon” served as a nice compromise for underscoring both the talents of the band and the orchestra, the band kept the limelight for most of the performance. For the audience members concerned that they weren’t hearing enough from the NCS, whose members kept a low profile as the steady pulse supporting the band, there were two selections for the orchestra from Billy Joel’s 2001 classical album, Fantasies and Delusions. Lovers of the classics were serenaded with “Waltz 1: Nunley’s Carousel” and “Air: Dublinesque,” also composed by Billy Joel.

The North Carolina Symphony continues 2012 with a classical performance, Tango Nuevo, hosting Coco Trivisonno on the bandoneón and tango dancers Karen Jaffe and Daniel Arrendondo. Tango Nuevo runs at Meymandi Hall in Raleigh from January 27-28. For details, see our calendar.