Backstage with Ron Onesti:
‘My Way’ to honor Mr. A.
How many times have you hears the terms “Mr. Show Biz,” “the consummate professional” or “the legendary icon?” Probably dozens of times. I know I have! These phrases are thrown around loosely, referring to entertainers who have attained a level of success and, more importantly, relevant staying power.
I am not saying all “legendary icons” don’t deserve the title, but there are varying degrees, for sure, for entertainers given those well-earned monikers.
Then a guy like Paul Anka comes along. After a monster sold-out show just last year, we brought Paul back to The Arcada for two nights last week. It was during those shows I fully understood the true meaning of the term “The Consummate Entertainer!”
Being of a somewhat “compact” physical structure myself, I can appreciate how Paul is “larger than life” regardless of his stature. When Anka enters the room, his smile fills it, and his iconic presence puts everyone at attention.
“Hello Ronald,” he said to me. “Hi Mr. A,” I said.
Sinatra insiders called him “Mr. S.” Anka insiders call him “P.A.,” but I did it “My Way” and with as much respect as I would have if addressing Frank Sinatra, by addressing Paul as “Mr. A.”
As we left the backstage door to walk around to the main entrance (more on this later), he put his arm around my shoulder as we walked slowly toward the front of the theater. He asked how I was doing, and how my family was doing. He remembered my mom at his show last year, how she was right up front “with a smile that never left her face throughout the whole show.”
I informed him of her passing, and he stopped in his tacks legitimately expressing his sincere sympathy, recalling what a sweet person she was. “Maybe we can have a drink together after the show,” he said to me.
There are those vintage film clips of Sinatra walking to the stage before his show with an entourage of bodyguards and security staff surrounding him. I got that same feeling walking with Mr. A. as our security team kept fans from inhibiting his entrance to the theater. There we waited as onlookers took photos.
Always in a black tuxedo, creased pants, shined shoes and a crisply pressed shirt, he warmly represents Las Vegas in its heyday. A next-generation “Rat Pack-er,” Paul made the entire audience feel as if they were in the presence of greatness, while at the same time making it seem as he was performing at a family party.
His show opened with an extensive video montage of career memories, including shots with the Beatles, Elvis, Michael Jackson, Celine Dion, Ray Charles, Sinatra … just about every “other” icon in the biz. It really made me realize just how deep this man’s career has been, and how many lives he has touched.
In typical Paul Anka fashion, he enters the theater like nobody else does, from the rear of the auditorium. As he began to sing one of his biggest hits, “You Are My Destiny,” he walked through the audience to the joy of his ever-loving fans. He shook hands, posed for pictures and accepted kisses and hugs … never skipping a note of the song.
His show was nothing short of spectacular, not only singing all his own hits, but also singing some of the countless super-hits he has written for others.
After an absolutely tremendous performance, Mr. A. reminded me of that after-show drink.
So he accompanied my wife and I up to our new 1920s Speakeasy located on the third floor of the theater. For more than two hours we talked and laughed.
I asked him about my dad’s favorite song, “My Way.” “That’s an interesting story. I was writing songs for a bunch of people at that time. Mr. S. called me and asked me to write him a song. He was going to retire and wanted to go out with a bang. I wrote ‘My Way’ for him. The song was so successful, it ironically took him right OUT of retirement!” he said.
We talked about the effect the Beatles-led “British invasion” had on American pop music. “It did affect me,” he said. “It was 15 years until I had another huge hit after ‘Lonely Boy.’ It was ‘(You’re) Havin’ My Baby.’ To this day it is one of my favorite songs.”
As we were talking I kept thinking to myself, “This is one of the biggest entertainers in the world who has impacted popular music greatly since the late 1950s … and we are just hanging out!” He continuously made loving references to his four daughters and his 12-year old son. He became a common “dad” with pride and love for his children.
All in all, Paul Anka is a man with a deep-seeded presence in pop culture who shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. At 76 years old, he gives a performance of somebody half his age, and he did it two nights in a row. He gives back the love audiences give to him.
Today I received a copy of his book, “My Way: An Autobiography” in the mail. It was from Mr. A. and he signed it, “To Ron, to all the years ahead, Paul.” Another sign that he is not slowing down, and his time at The Arcada is just beginning!
• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp. and The Historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.