Frankie Capri Sep04

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Frankie Capri

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Rating: 4.8/5 (16 votes cast)

What is the recipe for becoming a Pittsburgh underground cult legend?  A splash of music, an ounce of impersonations, a sprinkle of magic, with a heaping spoonful of puppets on the side. Oh, and make sure dessert includes playing a horn that sounds more like a kazoo!  Frankie Capri serves it all up in performances that are both bizarre and breathtaking.  He is a one man Las Vegas showcase.

When I watched him perform live at the Uniontown Italian Heritage Festival in August 2011, he played the guitar, a drum, and horn while he impersonated Frank Sinatra, and I had to learn more about him.  Frankie was kind enough to grant Pittsburgh Things a telephone interview recently, and what we learned about him only adds to his mystique and legend.

Never revealing his age to add an air of mystery about him, Frankie told me even after thousands of performances he still gets a thrill every time he performs.  He describes his talent as a pizza and likens himself to a pizza delivery boy.  He explains, “God makes the pizza, people want the pizza, and I just deliver it.”

He loves to dress up and impersonate the old standards:  Elvis, Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.   As for all the puppets and lights, he says, “Atmosphere is everything. When I first started doing shows I was a one-man-band. I was up there all by myself and the puppets were good company.”

For 15 years in the ’80s and ’90s his fans enjoyed his show at the Lava Lounge (formerly the Liberty Belle Lounge.)  Every Friday night for $3.00 you could go into the back room and watch a performance like nothing else in town. The animatronic animals just added to the scene.   Although no longer performing there he is still going strong.  He is a staple at festivals but also plays malls, private parties and fireballs.  In addition to Pennsylvania, he’s also played in Ohio, West Virginia, New York and New Jersey.

Absorbing Sicilian traditions while living in Sicily as a teenager, Frankie loves doing magic tricks, playing the accordion, and setting up mechanical puppets.  When he returned to the United States, he worked as a barber for a while and in the McKeesport Steel Mills, but when the mills closed Frankie answered his calling and started performing full-time. A forced career change that left a mark on Pittsburgh.

With all of the elements Frankie offers I knew at some point in his long career he must have some great show business stories.  I asked what was the worst thing that happened during a show.  Laughing throughout his recollection he told me, “I was playing in a banquet hall in front of a giant red curtain.  After one of my sets I went to lean back on the wall behind the curtain but there was no wall. I fell 10 feet off the stage right into a giant trash can full of potato peels.  Turned out, the giant curtain separated the kitchen from the ballroom. Those potato peels saved my life.  Everyone got a big laugh and the show went on!”

You can catch Frankie’s show “Frankie Capri – Back by Popular Demand” on Friday, September 9, 2011 from 10:30 AM to 1:00 PM at Century III Mall in West Mifflin.

Here is a taste of Frankie preforming at this year’s Uniontown Italian Heritage Festival.

And here’s a taste of Frankie in his prime in 1986.

 

Frankie Capri, 4.8 out of 5 based on 16 ratings