Neil Sedaka
Neil Sedaka (SUBMITTED)
Neil Sedaka said he'll soon be traveling to London's West End for the opening of the musical based on his life and named after one of his hits - "Laughter in the Rain."

A few years ago, Sedaka was invited to the production's opening at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley, England.

"They've invited me to be in it at the end," he said during a recent phone interview. "I sing with the main ensemble. It's watching your life unfold on stage."

For the last 58 years, Sedaka's life has unfolded on stages, inside recording studios and beside a piano. Even though his career is older than the parents of today's pop stars, he said he still has work to do.

"I think one reason that I'm around is that I'm never satisfied," he said.

A Brooklyn native, Sedaka now splits his time between New York and Los Angeles. But he said his neighborhood - also home to Barbra Streisand and Barry Manilow - shaped his career.

Sedaka took piano lessons and earned a scholarship to the Juilliard School of Music's Preparatory Division for Children. By the age of 13 or 14, Sedaka said, he discovered his songwriting ability. A few years later, he met his neighbor Howard Greenfield and the two were soon working together.

They were staples at the Brill Building - a Manhattan music hub haunted by other music greats from Broadway and pop. They signed with Aldon Music, a label that later boasted Carole King and Paul Simon.

Sedaka and his songs soon found a home in the 1950s "American Bandstand" scene.

"I am very proud of being part of the history of American rock 'n' roll," he said. "I was at the right place at the right time."

But he added that he was prepared with a musical background and songwriting skills.

"Writing music makes you stand out," he said. "It gives you a creative stature."

Sedaka's songs were well received all over the world. He learned to sing in six languages and was one of the first rockers to play Japan.

After his star faded in the mid-60s, he still wrote hits for the stars.

Elton John helped fuel Sedaka's comeback in the '70s by signing him to his label Rocket Records. Sedaka's renewed success would cement his spot in the Songwriters' Hall of Fame in 1983.

These days, he plays about 30 shows a year. Friday, he'll be backed by the York Symphony Orchestra during a concert at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center.

The first half of the show is dedicated to orchestral pop, including Sedaka's symphony "Joie de Vivre." Sedaka said he started writing orchestra pieces and piano concertos about four years ago. His most recent album, "Real Neil," includes the concerto "Manhattan Intermezzo" - a piece about the musical melting pot of New York City.

After Friday's intermission, Sedaka said he'll come out to perform his hits.

"As many times as I sing the old '50s songs, they bring back wonderful memories," he said. "The pop songs become more lush, and they have more luster (with the orchestra)."

It's nice to remember simpler times, he said. In recent years, Sedaka was a guest judge on the second season of "American Idol." Contestant Clay Aiken sang his song "Solitaire."

"It's so competitive today," Sedaka said of the music industry, adding that thousands try out for shows like "Idol." "You really have to have a great passion for it."

And Sedaka does. When he has down time, he'll be at his piano. He keeps an old cassette player nearby, and he'll just sit and write. He said he thinks that's why, after 58 years, he's still looking for the next hit.

"I think it's creative ambition," he said. "The idea ... that I can grow something fresh and new - not repeat myself. I just love what I do, and I think people can sense it when they're in the audience."

- ERIN McCRACKEN,
FlipSide staff

About the show

The York Symphony Orchestra SuperPops concert with Neil Sedaka is 8 p.m. Friday at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center, 50 N. George St., York.

In appreciation for support, the evening will include a dessert reception for all ticket holders 7 p.m. in the main lobby.

Tickets cost $61, $71 and $91. Proceeds from the concert will benefit all York Symphony programs, including school performances, education programs and community outreach.

Robert Hart Baker.
Robert Hart Baker. (DAILY RECORD/SUNDAY NEWS--FILE)

For details and tickets, call 717-846-1111 or visit mystrandcapitol.org.

YSO conductor Robert Hart Baker's thoughts on the show

The York Symphony Orchestra's SuperPops concert Friday celebrates three music giants - Neil Sedaka, Henry Mancini and Marvin Hamlisch.

YSO conductor Robert Hart Baker said the men are united by their classical training.

"There are lots of concert pianists and composers who found their niche in pop music," Baker said. He decided to open the concert with three pieces by Mancini, a Grammy- and Oscar-winning composer.

The first is a lively overture that Baker said is similar to a Leonard Bernstein symphony.

"It will be a good workout for the orchestra," Baker added. "'Ohio Riverboat' is a giant orchestral hoedown."

The third selection is from Mancini's last album, which he recorded with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

In between the overture and "Ohio Riverboat," YSO will play Mancini's hit "Moon River," from the 1961 film "Breakfast at Tiffany's." Baker said Mancini successfully crossed over to pop with the iconic score but not without drama.

"('Moon River') was almost cut from the film," Baker said, adding that filmmakers were unsure if leading lady Audrey Hepburn could sing the part. "It's something from Hollywood lore."

It's the kind of behind-the-music anecdote that Baker relishes sharing with the audience. And he said it shows how a few choices can make or break a career. Sedaka and Mancini, he added, were courageous for competing with pop stars.

Sedaka, whose career spans six decades, will join YSO to present his four-movement orchestral suite, "Joie de Vivre." Baker will conduct the piece.

After intermission, Dick Palombi will take up the baton to conduct some of Sedaka's greatest hits, including "Love Will Keep Us Together" and "Breaking Up is Hard to Do." The second part of the program will also feature "Turning Back the Hands of Time," a piece Sedaka based on a Puccini opera.

Baker said the full orchestra will be on hand and guitarists and drummers will be added.

"It's a big orchestra," he said. "It will sound like a studio recording. This is a very nice way for everyone to tie a bow on the end of the year. This is the kind of concert (Hamlisch) would have liked."

Sedaka is subbing for some dates that award-winning composer Hamlisch was scheduled to play, Baker added. In February 2012, YSO announced that Hamlisch - a lauded composer - would conduct the symphony's pops series this season. After Hamlisch passed away in August 2012, YSO hired Todd Ellison to conduct the pops concerts. Baker continued to conduct the YSO's classical fare and will transition into YSO's Music Director Laureate in the coming months. He said he's had a ball during this season, which is YSO's 80th and his 30th as conductor.

"I am honored to hold the title of Music Director Laureate of an orchestra that is very dear to me," Baker said.

- ERIN McCRACKEN,
FlipSide staff

About the program

Robert Hart Baker will conduct:

"Overture to a Pops Concert" by Henry Mancini

"Moon River" by Mancini

"Ohio Riverboat" by Mancini

"Joie de Vivre" by Neil Sedaka

Intermission

Dick Palombi will conduct:

"Tin Pan Alley" by Sedaka, arranged by Artie Butler

"Hit Medley" by Sedaka

"The Hungry Years" by Sedaka, arranged by Butler

"One more Ride on the Merry-go-Round" by Sedaka, ar ranged by Palombi

"Love Will Keep Us Together" by Sedaka, arranged by Palombi

"Solitaire" by Sedaka, arranged by Butler

"You" by Sedaka, arranged by Palombi

"Laughter in the Rain" by Sedaka, arranged by Butler

"Turning Back the Hands of Time" by Sedaka, arranged by Lee Holdridge

"Breaking Up is Hard to Do" by Sedaka, arranged by Palombi

Encore: "That's Where the Music Takes Me" by Sedaka, arranged by Holdridge and Palombi

Online

Neil Sedaka: neilsedaka.com

York Symphony Orchestra: www.yorksymphony.org

Read more celebrity interviews: www.yorkblog.com/flipside/celebrity-interviews