‘Almost Elton John’ coming to Mishler stage
Craig Meyer said he was such an active child that his parents had to figure how to channel his energy, “or I might end up in jail.” They put him in dance classes and wanted him to learn piano but “I couldn’t sit still long enough for that.”
But Meyer taught himself to play from a poster of music chords that his Lutheran minister, accordion-playing father got for him. He has parlayed all that learning into a successful career that has traversed all four corners of the entertainment industry: theater, film, television and music.
Having created a show that accentuates his vocals, dance and piano-playing talents, Meyer is bringing his “almost Elton John” tribute concert to Altoona later this month. “Remember When Rock Was Young” will hit the Mishler Theatre stage at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 18 and 19.
Meyer has a striking resemblance to John, at least the earlier version.
“I do the glam Elton, the young Elton, not the contemporary Elton, who’s a little heavier and has less hair than he used to,” Meyer said. “I focus on the 1970s and ’80s, with the platform shoes, the spandex and the beads.”
Meyer’s show celebrates chart-topping hits including “Benny and the Jets,” “Philadelphia Freedom,” “Crocodile Rock,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and “Candle in the Wind.” But it’s as much theater as music, and he has taken it internationally and across the United States.
Altitude Entertainment, a sister company to the Altoona Mirror, is presenting the show. General Manager Ray Eckenrode said that after the success of the Bee Gees tribute show last year, AE principals developed Las Vegas contacts that steered them to acts, such as Meyer’s, “that have more wow factor than your average tribute show.”
“We think our audiences are pretty diverse, but they’re definitely baby boomer-focused, and Elton John has been such a big part of boomers’ lives and that’s something we’re cognizant of,” Eckenrode said.
He said ticket sales have been strong, and he hopes they match last year’s two-night sellout for the Bee Gees show that was held on the same weekend as Meyer’s.
Meyer was born in Los Angeles, and his family moved so often he had attended five schools by high school, even a year in Hong Kong.
The one constant was music.
“There always was music in the house,” said Meyer. “Both parents sang, Dad played the accordion. We had a piano in the house, the one my father had learned to play on. I was interested, but I didn’t want to take formal lessons.”
That’s when his father got him that poster of music chords — for the guitar — that he used to learn the piano. (He still has that poster).
“I cut my chops on Barry Manilow, Billy Joel … from the 1970s,” he said. “Eventually I became a better musician.”
By the time he graduated high school, he was composing.
Meyer then embarked on a career that included touring and recording with Manilow and Frankie Valli, and headlining for Princess Cruises around the world.
A statement from Manilow says that Meyer “is one of the most talented people I have ever worked with. He can do anything.”
Meyer also worked in regional theater, acting and choreographing. On Broadway, he created the role of Clinton Badger in MGM’s classic “Meet Me In St. Louis,” among other roles. He also toured nationally in “Cats” as Skimble-shanks and other Broadway touring shows.
Meyer’s television appearances include guest-starring roles on “Necessary Roughness,” “Will & Grace” and “General Hospital.”
Film credits include “Leather-heads” with George Clooney and Renee Zellweger, “Joyful Noise” with Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah and “Identity Thief” with Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy.
He found himself in Atlanta in 2006 teaching voice lessons when he met and became friends with Melody Knighton, a tribute artist for Dolly Parton and Lucille Ball. She suggested he could similarly work in the tribute industry.
“I didn’t want to go to the Elton John graveyards of impersonators,” he said, ignoring the suggestion for a time.
But he began inserting more Elton John music in his own concerts and mimicking his piano style, and the feedback was positive.
After clothes shopping, putting together a look and creating a website, “Almost Elton John” was created and Meyer did his first show in 2008.
His business has grown to a small cottage industry, employing about seven, and another show as a tribute to Billy Joel.
Meyer said he is fine with having never met John.
“I am really great with that,” he said. “He could love what I do and that could inflate my ego, or he could hate what I do and that would devastate me. I tell myself, ‘Just stay in my lane.’ In some ways, ignorance is bliss.”
Meyer said his show is a culmination of his background of training and experience.
“It takes everything I’ve learned to do as an actor, as a performer, as a singer, as a dancer, as a musician,” he said. “It’s all rolled up into one show. And it’s great fun.”
Meyer said he loves his entire catalog of John music, but one of his favorite moments of his show is when he sings “Your Song” near the end.
“It’s at that moment when I usually get a certain response, and when I get that response, I know I’ve done my job,” he said.
Meyer said his show is for multiple generations, from the baby boomers who grew up with John’s music to today’s children who love the movie “The Lion King” that featured John’s music, including “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”
He said he walked into a restaurant recently and “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” was playing.
“His music is everywhere,” Meyer said.
Mirror Staff Writer Cherie Hicks is at 949-7030.
If you go
What: “Remember When Rock Was Young — Elton John Tribute,” featuring Broadway’s Craig Meyer
Where: Mishler Theatre
When: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 18, 19
Tickets/more info: www.MishlerTheatre.org,944-9434