Billy Joel is one of the best-selling musicians of all time, with over 160 million records sold worldwide. He has won five Grammy Awards and was honored by the Kennedy Center in 2013 for his invaluable contributions to American culture. This summer, FST presents a musical tribute to “The Piano Man” himself with a new, lively Cabaret: New York State of Mind – All the Hits of Billy Joel With The Uptown Boys.
We sat down with Hank Von Kolnitz, one of the cast members of New York State of Mind, to talk about the significance of Billy’s Joel’s music, his favorite song to sing in the show, and what he most enjoys about performing in Sarasota.
You perform some of Joel’s boldest songs, such as “Movin’ Out” and “You May Be Right.” Do you have a favorite song to sing in the show? If so, why is it your favorite?
As an artist, Billy Joel had a political stance that evolved and grew alongside his career. I thoroughly enjoy getting to sing some of his more aggressive, younger pieces, particularly “You May Be Right.” The audience knows its coming from the start of the music, and it feels fantastic to have a whole room singing back at you. I am also a huge fan of “River of Dreams,” which is our Act I finale. The call-and-response nature of the song is so fun to play with, and hearing the audience try to keep up with its different pauses always makes me smile.
You have experience performing in works of musical theatre classics like West Side Story and Jesus Christ Superstar. Is there anything that you’ve taken from those experiences that you bring to your performance in New York State of Mind?
Joel’s songwriting is so story-focused that my experience with book musicals has helped me approach the songs from that angle. Billy Joel writes about all these moments in life and feelings that are universal, and I really try to make sure his stories shine through as much as his melodies.
This is your first time bringing New York State of Mind to Sarasota. How have Sarasota audiences been reacting to the show?
We’ve been an absolute riot in FST’s Court Cabaret! It’s so nice to hear people say that we’re one of their favorite shows they’ve gotten to see here, and it’s so wholesome to hear people singing along to our show each night. It’s clear that “The Piano Man” has really left his mark on everyone.
Due to audience demand, New York State of Mind – All the Hits of Billy Joel With The Uptown Boys was extended and played through October 16, 2022.