It would be easy to tag this week’s edition of the Scinta Christmas Show with the phrase “Las Vegas comes to North Tonawanda” but that would be unfair; the Scintas were Western New York favorites long before they hauled their act off to Nevada and established a flourishing career in “Sin City” lounges.
Frank, Joe and Chrissi took their vocal and instrumental talents with them when they left, but they keep coming back to WNY to see family and friends. In that sense, putting on a “Christmas Show” was just one reason for the return. This year Chrissi wasn’t able to make the trip since she was recovering from surgery and hadn’t gotten a doctor’s clearance to fly. Ashlee Amoia, a young family friend and former American Idol contestant, has been stepping in to fill Chrissi’s role as female vocalist for much of this year and doing a fairly decent job of it.
But the show this year was basically about Frank and Joe Scinta. Frank is the master of many musical instruments, powerhouse song belter, jokester, and all-around master of ceremonies, while Joe plays bass and plays the Jerry Lewis role to Franks’ Dean Martin. The interplay between them and the occasional humorous interjections from Peter O’Donnell, the group’s drummer, form the base upon which the act is built. Everything else is gravy.
Neither Frank nor Joe have the vocal chops that Wayne Newton, who played in the area earlier this month, used to have but they’ve aged better. Where Newton’s current show dwells more on the past and what his career used to be, the Scinta’s homage to the “Rat Pack” era skews younger and relies more on the interaction between performers than placing the weight of the gig’s success on the shoulders of someone who can no longer carry the load.
The relationship between the Scintas and their audience is one of easy familiarity, shared values and experiences that allow the performers to ignore political correctness in favor of communicating with people who grew up in similar neighborhoods and on familiar blocks.
Tickets for Friday’s event sold out weeks ago, and the seats were filled, more often than not, with folks who remembered what it was like to grow up in the 1950s and ’60s, the times when Frank Sinatra, George Burns and Johnny Mathis came into their living room on television sets.
The skits with Frank’s impression of Jimmy Durante singing “Frosty the Snowman,” or the brothers’ mildly risqué routine with Martin and Lewis (Joe’s Lewis featured him acting like one of Santa’s more demented elves) were the sort of things that got the audience chuckling. Joe’s mimicking of Neil Diamond’s vocal style and concert wardrobe was enough of a caricature to be right on the money, and Ashlee’s take on Michael Jackson’s musical catalog was directly in line with what the brothers were doing.
While the character imitations and sung renditions of Christmas and pop standards filled the bulk of the show’s stage time, the purely musical moments were almost lost in the mix. When they surfaced, it was more as a brief aside between punch lines.
One exception was when Frank’s typically boffo verbal introduction to a Sicilian folk tune gave way to a moment when music as folk art, a direct and individual connection to his heritage, took center stage as he strummed the strings of his mandolin and brought a distinctly personal past into the present before giving way to the rest of the act.