Frankie Moreno’s “Dancing With the Stars” appearance could be likened to an Olympic event.
A lot of preparation, practice and training for one momentous sprint.
Moreno’s performance of his own single “Tangerine Honey” and Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Real Wild Child” was a mad dash set in the first 15 minutes on Tuesday night’s live broadcast on ABC. Moreno was played during a dance number choreographed by pro dancer Lacey Schwimmer, who was joined onstage by ever-beaming celeb partner Kyle Massey.
Moreno also was backed by the show’s towering 18-piece band and a host of tumbling backing dancers. His appearance was a highlight in a suspense-tinged, double-elimination show. During the broadcast, two couples were dusted, both featuring former champs: Season 2 winner Drew Lachey and partner Anna Trebunskaya and Season 5 champ Helio Castroneves and partner Chelsie Hightower.
The “DWTS” live show is a forum where every sound and movement is amplified and magnified infinitely. Putting on a show for several million viewers forces a staging process that is equal measures hurried and efficient, and Moreno’s appearance was no exception. He had three minutes of airtime to perform a two-song production number he’d not even tested onstage at the Stratosphere.
“Tangerine Honey” is a song performed each show, yes, and the song written two years ago in Paris is a highlight of Moreno’s new album, "Frankie Moreno." But at the Strat the song is always played at length. On Tuesday, Moreno was given 90 seconds to perform a verse and chorus during “DWTS.” The band and he had time to run through the song only twice in preparation for the live show.
As for “Real Wild Child,” Moreno never plays it during his stage show, going with another Lewis classic, “Rockin’ My Life Away,” to close each performance. Similar to “Rockin My Life Away,” “Real Wild Child” presented Moreno the chance to perform his usual acrobatics across a piano built especially for the broadcast.
For those who have seen Moreno’s live performance, that he plays the keyboard backward and upside down is no longer a novelty. But the studio audience went wild at that moment, standing as directed but in full roar by the end. Likely, millions of TV viewers were wowed by the theatrics, as Moreno’s official website crashed as the show aired live on the East Coast.
The slick editing and dazzling production of the number indicated many assorted moving parts were crisscrossing the stage. That’s exactly what you saw from inside the prefab ballroom at CBS Television Studios (where the ABC show is filmed). Moreno started behind the mic, standing in front of the musicians, then hoofed it down a series of stairs to the piano. As he repositioned himself, one camera boom glided across the dance floor while another spun a 360-degree loop around Moreno and the dancers. Pinwheeling on the floor was a helicopter pattern of projected lights.
By the time Moreno leaped atop the instrument, clapping along with the crowd, Schwimmer had been spun into a flip by Massey, and one backing dancer performed an aerial somersault off the lid of the piano as if the instrument were a pommel horse.
Olympian, in all respects. Brilliant execution of controlled chaos.
Afterward, at a dinner with his family and friends and family of Schwimmer, Moreno watched a YouTube clip that was posted soon after the show aired live back East. He grinned as co-host Brooke Burke-Charvet slightly rolled the “r” in his last name, giving it a Latin flair (already, a blogger from Time.com has mistakenly referred to the Moreno, who is Italian, as a Latin artist; more accurate was the reference to Moreno’s Elvis-like hair).
Every move, sound and editing cut from this show was scrutinized, and Moreno came away pleased. So did the producers, who are already asking Moreno and Schwimmer about a return appearance. Maybe a ballad. Maybe some other up-tempo number (and there is an unreleased song Moreno and producer Pat Thrall are just finishing, titled “Angel Town,” that would roar through that “DWTS” ballroom).
Whichever, Moreno loved working with that house band, the production is first-class in every regard, and those who appear on the show were happy to host the Las Vegas headliner. At a bar in the Grove within walking distance from the studio, Moreno ran into a group of “DWTS” folks, including host Tom Bergeron.
Bergeron spotted Moreno walking past, stood and called out, “Congratulations!”
Hours after his appearance, as he frantically tried to answer hundreds of text and Twitter messages, Moreno was already thinking of the Next Big Thing.
“I’m ready to do it again,” he said. “Let’s do it tomorrow.”
He sounded serious.