Ron Onesti: The power of music in her final hours
There was a special Sunday in recent years I would like to tell you about.
The day started like most others at The Arcada. The building came alive in the morning as staff began the set up for the day. Our production guys turned on the sound and light systems and were getting the stage ready for not one, but two shows that day. Our Hospitality Department began preparing the dressing rooms. Our bar staff cut their fruit, and our Security Team started to arrive.
On the third-floor Speakeasy, our chefs commenced with the day's prep. I had my meatballs slow cooking. The wait staff was setting up the room.
The first show was the one-man play, "A Bronx Tale," performed by the guy who wrote and starred in the classic film, Chazz Palminteri. It started as an off-Broadway presentation with Palminteri and a chair on stage. He told the autobiographical story, in the first-person voice of all the characters in the movie.
In the dressing room after the show, he spoke with four high school acting students. He gave them words of wisdom, life lessons woven within the fabric of his story.
"The saddest thing in life is wasted talent" was written on a business card he gave the boys. "Don't waste your talent, work hard and make your family proud" was his follow up statement.
"You have no idea how much I appreciate those words, and how much that movie meant to me and my mom growing up," the young man said.
This was much more than a show. It was life changing for some, and it happened on our stage.
That was the 3 o'clock show.
At 7:30 p.m. that same day, we had another television and music icon, Tony Orlando. It was a great show made up of his hits and other songs to keep the crowd on its feet and dancing a "Conga line" down the aisles.
"Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree," "Knock Three Times," "Candida," were just some of the classic hits he performed. He spent a great deal of energy honoring war veterans in the audience. It was moving to say the least.
There are many shows where I introduce the act on stage, then go into my office to continue working, or I walk the building making sure our customers' experience is the best it can be. For these two shows that day, however, I was an excited audience member myself.
"A Bronx Tale" is up there as one of my favorite films, and the Tony Orlando show is as memory-laden and all-American as it gets. It's a great performance!
I actually sat near the back of the main floor. In front of me were a younger couple who was with their parents. The mother was on the aisle just singing and moving to the music. She kept reaching for the sky as if she was praising God.
The older gentleman was leaning on his wooden cane as he sat next to her. His son had his arm around him, as he tapped to the music on his shoulder. The father had his eyes closed as if to truly be feeling the music.
We were all singing and moving to the melodies. It was another "good time" at The Arcada!
But for those folks in front of me, it was more than just a "good time." The young man noticed me behind him and turned to tell me something in my ear, during another upbeat and lively Orlando song.
"I just want to thank you for this," he said to me. "These are my in-laws. My father-in-law next to me is blind and deaf. I have been tapping to the beat of the music and he was actually able to feel the tunes. I haven't seen a smile on his face like that in a long time. And that's my mother-in-law. Truthfully, we were all in the car on the way to the hospital to put her into hospice. She has been very down. But when the music came on the radio in the car, she responded well and smiled. So my wife and I decided rather than take her to hospice now, we would come to The Arcada for this show. We turned around and she has had the best time she has had in years. It truly breathed life into her. This is probably going to be her last night out."
I almost collapsed with emotion. I was watching her move back and forth, raising both hands to the heavens and smiling all during the show. Little did I know how important this night would be to that family.
So just before the last song came on, the family slowly got together their things, put their coats on and slowly left the theater. The son and his wife gave me a hug. The father and son walked slowly out of the theater. The mother used a walker and just before she left through the theater doors, she turned and looked back at the stage, then looked at me and smiled.
Yes, these are more than just shows. I remind my staff regularly just how important each and everyone's job is. We don't really know what is going on in people's lives that the music takes them away from. Regardless, I see it as a responsibility to make sure folks have a good time, to the best of our ability.
It could be a first concert, a first date, a first time seeing a certain band or the first time at our theater.
Or it could be their last.
• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of the Onesti Entertainment Corp. and The Historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email email@example.com.