Paul Anka covered his musical history during a rambunctious and emotionally-draining concert Monday that captured the majestic swirl of his six-decade career
The famed performer took The Sharon stage and sang everything from his first 1957 hit “Diana” to Prince’s “Purple Rain” to Buddy Holly’s “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” and Frank Sinatra’s signature tune, “My Way.”
It was a show with plenty of laughter, a few tears and a 75-year old dude who – like a lot of Villagers — refuses to act his age.
It didn’t take long for Anka to pick up a Villages’ vibe.
“Well, all right,” he told the packed house early on. “It’s my first time here and it’s great to be alive and kicking in The Villages.”
Anka was more than ready to crank out the oldies during the middle of the show. He jumped off the stage and prowled the isles and seats of the theater like an aging hepcat looking for action. During his musical sojourn, fans hugged, kissed and touched Paul.
The singer even grabbed a cellphone from Villager Donna McGehrin. “Who are you talking to,” Anka asked.
“My husband (Joe),” she replied. “I’m here tonight with my girlfriend (Villager Marcy Harper).
“Gimme the phone,” Anka said and McGehrin obliged.
“How come you’re not here,” Anka asked her startled husband. “You’re home,” Anka told the crowd what her husband said.
“Well, I’m here with your wife and her girlfriend.”
At one point, Anka, in a blitz of rock and roll energy, ran to the middle of The Sharon and climbed atop a table near the sound board. Then he belted out a medley of hits. The list included, “My Hometown” and “Lonely Boy.” Another dose of nostalgia came with “Put Your Head on My Shoulder.”
Anka stood atop the table and led the crowd in a stirring sing-a-long. He also opened the show standing the middle of The Sharon while singing a ‘50s’ hit, “My Destiny.”
Once again, he made a journey around the theater meeting and greeting fans.
Anka still has the juice to tackle upbeat numbers such as “She’s A Lady,” which he wrote for Tom Jones, and “Mack the Knife,” honoring his late friend Bobby Darin. Another was “Great Jubilation,” which Anka wrote for Barbra Streisand.
But it wasn’t all fun and games.
Anka is multi-talented performer who acts out his songs and knows how to create a melancholy mood. He was backed by a 14-piece orchestra that helped capture the essence of the singer and the songwriter.
“This is a special month for me,” he told the crowd. “It was 60 years ago this month I really started my recording career.” Then he waxed philosophical as a onetime rock and roller growing old.
“I’m at the point of my life where the things that used to matter to me aren’t as important anymore,” Anka said. “For me, what matters now is family, friends and health.”
Anka paid tribute to Buddy Holly in special way. Three guitarists from his band came to sit on the front of the stage. Anka sat in the middle of them in a swivel chair and sang and played acoustic guitar on “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore.”
“Buddy asked me to write a song,” said Anka, who had toured with Holly. Buddy Holly died in a 1959 air crash and that song was his last hit. During the song, Anka tossed in a couple of other rockabilly tunes: “Oh Lonesome Me” and “Bye-Bye Love” as he rolled around the stage on his chair with wheels.
Another stunning moment came when Anka sat down at the piano and sang “Do I Love You,” originally a duet with Dolly Parton. But, in the middle of the slow, almost spiritual song, Anka started hitting the piano hard and burst into Prince’s “Purple Rain.” It was a stirring performance and Anka earned a standing ovation.
Another standing ovation came when Anka sang the theme he wrote to the 1962 D-Day invasion movie, “The Longest Day.” A huge screen showing the American flag appeared on stage as Anka dedicated the song to the men and women who have served America.
Anka touched a mournful nerve paying tribute to Sammy Davis Jr. A screen behind the stage showed Davis singing the song Anka wrote for him, “I’m Not Anyone.” Anka joined in for a duet as he looked up at the screen on the darkened stage.
Another powerful moment came near the end of the concert when Anka told the story of writing “My Way” for Frank Sinatra.
“Frank always called me kid,” Anka said. “One day, after dinner he told me he was quitting show business and asked me to write a song for his last album. “Do it for me, kid.”
“I went back to my hotel room and stayed up through the night and wrote ‘My Way.’” Sinatra loved the song and it became his trademark.
“But I’m not going to sing it tonight,” Anka told the crowd. “Instead I’m going to sing a song I wrote for Mr. Sinatra two years later.”
Anka then performed “Let Me Try Again,” another introspective number of self-revelation that Sinatra sang. After it was over, the lights darkened and a spotlight covered Anka as he did sing “My Way.”
It was a power-packed emotional performance, and in a kind of eerie way, Anka seemed to resemble Sinatra in physical mannerisms and vocal dexterity.
The crowd was on its feet, cheering, yelling and clapping for Anka. “Hey, keep standing, because now I’m going to sing the first hit I ever had,” he told the audience.
Anka then went into a jumping version of “Diana” as the people loudly sang-a-long with the lyrics that go:
“I’m so young/And you’re so old/This my darling I’ve been told…You and I will be as free as the birds up in the tree/Oh please stay by me/Diana.”
In the end, Paul Anka, like his fans, made the night a memorable one.
“He loves singing and what he sings comes from the heart,” Villager Marcy Harper said.
“He has a way of expressing emotions in music that people can relate to,” added Donna McGehrin.
Anka has been doing that for six decades and for him, survival means music.
“I’m still here and I’m still doing what I love,” he said. “And that’s what matters.”