At 72-years-young, Paul Anka proves you can’t keep a good man down.
Paul Anka jogs down the aisle of Sydney’s Lyric Theatre towards the stage, high-fiving the audience, posing for snapshots and signing autographs, all the while crooning his megahit Diana with a voice as young as his body miraculously seems to be. Whatever multivitamins this 72-year-old has been taking, they’re working.
He bounds up the steps, mops his brow and quips, “Boy, am I glad to get that number the hell outta the way!” So begins 90 minutes of a concert as energetic and fun as it was musically satisfying. While the iconic image of Anka is as the 16-year-old crooner who exhorted 1950s teens to put their heads on his shou-ou-oulder, he’s also written for just about everyone who’s ever belted out a tune in Las Vegas.
His version of She’s a Lady, made famous by Tom Jones, makes you wonder why Anka didn’t make it a hit for himself. His rendition of My Way (he wrote the lyrics for Frank Sinatra), sounds like it could easily serve as a summary of his own career.
And what a fascinating career it’s been. Part of the charm of this show is hearing Anka’s accounts of touring with Buddy Holly on clapped-out Greyhounds or meeting the Rat Pack, naked, in a Vegas steam room (“Dean Martin was singing Little Things Mean a Lot”).
And never does this sound like a string of name-drops – Anka is humbly bearing witness to a whole age of popular music. The reason he’s the last man standing is because he began so young. With his first hit in 1957, Anka is getting on for 60 years in the performance business. And it shows. In a good way.
There was not a dull moment in his show, whether Anka was bounding around the stalls improvising verses of Mack the Knife to tease audience members or strumming a guitar to Buddy Holly’s last hit It Doesn’t Matter Anymore (written for him by Anka at the age of 17). If any budding performer wants a masterclass in how to hold a room, look no further.
The effortlessly classy John Cross Band, imported from L.A., also deserves plaudits for their playing, switching seamlessly from rock ‘n’ roll to a lush Nelson Riddle arrangement of I’ve Got You Under My Skin.
Linking what were rather disparate performances was Anka’s warmth and ready wit. He was hilariously self-deprecating in his interactions with the audience: “Come closer with your camera honey, I’m only a little guy – I look like I fell off the top of a wedding cake”. And the banter weaving the tunes together was littered with juicy lines: “Being Catholic is so complicated these days. I went to confession and said to the priest, ‘you first’.”
Even the slide show of his children and grandchildren, which sounds like an unbelievably mushy thing to do on stage, was rather poignant, eliciting a series of “aaahs” from the crowd. But perhaps the most affecting moment was the duet with a video projection of Sammy Davis Jr in I’m Not Anyone, a black power anthem Anka wrote for the man he deemed the most talented performer he had worked with.
In short, it was a complete performance, edifying musically, emotionally – and perhaps even historically. Those who couldn’t attend the show should take heart that Paul has promised to return for another tour soon. Don’t miss it.