On a rainy Saturday, Michael Richard Kelly-Cataldi – entertainment director and co-owner of Glenside’s Dino’s Backstage with his husband, Dino J. Kelly-Cataldi – is doing a little bit of everything: Along with introducing rockabilly guitarist Dibbs Preston, Michael Richard Kelly-Cataldi sings a Patsy Cline tune with the band, cuts a rug with a dancing doyenne to get the swing party started, buses tables, takes drink orders (“Have the pink martini”), checks the temperature of the roasted duck leg, and handles phone reservations for the next morning’s brunch.
In between all of this, Kelly-Cataldi gets on the mike to promote yet another project: The Judy Garland Songbook, his debut album — the first in his nearly 40-year career. Dino’s will host album release parties on Friday and Saturday to mark the occasion.
“These are songs I live and breathe; my life in miniature,” he says, quietly.
Kelly-Cataldi then reminds attendees that Dino’s — and its adjacent Celebrity Room restaurant — second anniversary parties are in June, featuring himself and legendary cabaret chanteuse Marilyn Maye as headliners.
“Dino and Michael are fantastically devoted to furthering the art of cabaret,” says Billy Stritch, the singer, Liza Minnelli pianist, and Maye devotee who opened Dino’s in May 2016. “The place is elegant and rare.”
If Dino’s Backstage is a novel proposition – a swanky, 1940s-style supper club for discerning adults complete with vintage celebrity photos and art deco touches — so, too, is Michael Richard Kelly-Cataldi.
How many venue owner-operators make albums? Not Electric Factory Concerts’ Larry Magid. Not R5 Productions’ Sean Agnew. Not the cats from Coda or the boys of Boot & Saddle. Then again, how many vocalists owned pet boutiques (named “And Toto, Too!” to go with his love of all-things Garland) or sung for Princess Grace in Monaco?
Starting his singing career in 1980 at Six Flags Great Adventure with three years of six shows a day (“Gave me lungs of steel, knock wood”), Kelly-Cataldi hit Philly in 1985 via a run of Forbidden Broadway at what was then called the Bellevue-Stratford. He crafted smart, tender cabaret shows for famed stages in New Hope, Manhattan, and Philly, but longed for a room of his own, which is how he and his husband, Philly restaurateur Dino Kelly-Cataldi, came to create their Backstage.
“Where else can you get exquisite sound and views with the performer mere feet from you?” says Dino of their intimate song-salon that, along with booking Maye and Stritch, hosts cabaret giants such as Ann Hampton Calloway and Nellie McKay.
So what took so long for Kelly-Cataldi to get into the recording booth and immortalize his sweet, Johnnie Ray-like voice? “I just wanted to be good,” he says. “I wasn’t thinking about the recording part. When I wound up also feeling supported, I came to the realization that all was OK, and that it was time.”
Kelly-Cataldi is speaking of Dino. The couple will have been together for 20 years this August. They were first married in Massachusetts in 2005, and again at their Wyndmoor home in 2014 when gay marriage became legal in Pennsylvania.
As a guy who’s never listened to “Top 40 anything” or much music “beyond 1967, save for obscure Broadway theater songs,” Kelly-Cataldi said he went back to his first love when choosing to make his first album with pianist Tom Adams and his trio — Dino’s house band. “Judy was my respite, what I ran to as a 10-year-old, realizing I was different from other kids — how, I didn’t know — or after being bullied and called names I didn’t understand. I’d go to my room, sit in my rocker, put on my huge headphones, and disappear into Judy.”
Kelly-Cataldi didn’t realize that Garland was teaching him about phrasing or how to feel a song. “I live this Songbook, rather than perform it,” Kelly-Cataldi says.
He expects nothing less of the acts he books into Dino’s Backstage, or the art deco-styled décor — retro, but never forced — that he and his husband chose to highlight their sense of panache.
But there’s risk in opening a room in which the demographic is the over-40 set, but Kelly-Cataldi says that adults are an often overlooked demographic. “Young people don’t usually have the dollars to support this,” he says of Dino’s. “With the social drama of the last few years, adults are harking back to the ‘good old days,’ or at least that idea. They can dress up, come to dinner, see a show.”
The couple are quick to mention that, as of late, Backstage gets parties of millennials to whom this look and music is new. “A kid of 22 has never heard Garland’s – or my version – of ‘Get Happy,” says Kelly-Cataldi.
Then there are matters of taste and knowledge. Dino Kelly-Cataldi jokes that being employed at Dino’s means knowing the celebrities of the ’30s and ’40s on its walls. “If you come to ‘Judy Garland’ and you don’t know, you can’t work here,” he says with a laugh.
Michael Richard Kelly-Cataldi
- 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dino's Backstage & The Celebrity Room, 287 N. Keswick Ave, Glenside, Pa., $35, dinosbackstage.com