George Orelli recalls local nightspots with a Saturday trip down memory lane
Nightclubbers of a certain age will recall the glory days of Three Rivers Inn, the showroom that packed ’em in during the 1960s with major stars like Jimmy Durante, Peter Lawford and Louis Armstrong, despite the fact that the supper club was in the relative backwater of Phoenix, far, far away from the swizzle sticks of Vegas lounges. So you’d think those memories would have gone up in smoke after the venue fell victim to an electrical fire in 1973.
Well, think again. George Orelli, bandleader at Three Rivers during its heyday, still has the photos of that starstruck legacy, some of which are printed on this page. And Orelli is attempting to time-warp 2011 audiences back to yesteryear’s swanky entertainment with an evening he’s billing as “A Return to the Magic of the Legendary Nightclub Era.” Pensabene’s Casa Grande hosts the stylish shindig on Saturday, May 14, 7 p.m.
The show is an encore to last summer’s similar production mounted by Orelli at Liverpool’s Ramada Inn, so expect more of a good thing involving local talents. The State Street Band features bassist Chuck Sgroi, drummer Tommy Rozzano and guitarist John Lotocha, plus vocalist Daniella Rausa, who also teaches music at Roxboro Road Middle School. Nick Mulpagano does vocal impressions of Rat Packers like Sinatra and Dino, and was the focal point of several incarnations of the jukebox musical Cruizin’ franchise. Crooner Tom Tortorelli, son of George (Orelli is dad’s stage name), will be on hand, and there will be a dance contest presided by coney grillmeister Bob Barker. And Orelli will host a clips-filled multimedia presentation.
Of course, Orelli has plenty of stories to share, starting with his own unusual career path, from a middleweight boxing champ during the 1950s (one exhibition bout pitted him against Carmen Basilio) to his role as bandleader at Three Rivers and other nightspots such as the still-in-business LeMoyne Manor and the old Tic Toc Club. Orelli also went from delivering knockouts to marrying a knockout, wife and fellow entertainer Rosalinda, and for several decades has managed a music production business in Miami.
Mike Davis, Syracuse New Times awardwinning photographer and the Hammond B-3 organist for the back-from-the-1960s musical group The Coachmen, recalls that Orelli booked one of Davis’ earliest bands, known as the West Winds, in 1965. “I bet he doesn’t remember,” Davis says about his own teen musicianship, although it’s a good bet that Orelli doesn’t forget anything, even after years of hobnobbing with the impressive likes of Van Johnson, Abbe Lane, Xavier Cugat, Della Reese and many, many more.
A dinner will be served from 7 to 8 p.m. at Pensabene’s, followed by the entertainment and dancing from 8 p.m. to midnight. Tickets are $30. For reservations, call 461-8279.
The stars came out at night: Legendary talents such as Louis Armstrong (left) and Jimmy Durante (center) played alongside bandleader George Orelli at the long-gone Phoenix nightclub Three Rivers Inn during the 1960s. At right is Orelli during his years in the 1950s as a middleweight boxer.