Spotlight: Cabaret comes to town


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Gino De Luca has 189 songs running through his head.

It's not a complaint, he said. Just an observation of the mix of his students' songs and his own cabaret shows.

"It's all music," he said. "So it's all good."

De Luca, a 45-year-old Graduate College Presidential Fellow at the University of Iowa, has lived through music during 18 years of professional experience and 11 years in academia.

His cabaret performance, "Pop! Go the '70s," will begin at 8 p.m. today at the University Capitol Centre Recital Hall.

Music attracted him at an early age.

De Luca was born in 1964, the year the Beatles came to America. The Chicago native said he was part of the television generation. What caught his attention were the commercial jingles — tunes his parents later heard him play on the piano. He had basically transcribed the music.

His carpenter father and stay-at-home mother introduced him to the accordion at age 6 and the piano at 8.

"They always knew I had some kind of talent," he said. "But they kept me humble."

He pursued music at DePaul University, completing one year of piano performance before leaving to pursue a professional career.

For the next 18 years, De Luca performed in cabaret shows in Chicago, cruise ships in the Mediterranean, and in archdiocese choirs in Rome, Vienna, Salzburg, and Munich.

He reached a point where he professionally "hit his ceiling," returning to university life in 2001 for the following years, earning a bachelor's and master's of art degrees.

He enrolled at the UI in August 2008 to complete his doctorate in voice literature with hopes of becoming a music teacher. He said he doesn't want to stop his education to pursue a job after spending so much time working toward a Ph.D.

"It has to be Dr. De Luca first," he said.

Setting up for the performance for tonight's show, he adjusted the speakers and the position of the piano — anything necessary to find the perfect sound.

Mary Barrett Rimm met De Luca in 1985. Both were performing at a benefit for children's theater when her accompanist canceled last minute.

Tonight is the first time she will perform with De Luca in 12 years — "a musical reunion," De Luca said.

His students, Barrett Rimm said, don't know the "other side" of De Luca.

"He was a wonderful performer before he was a teacher," she said.

William Monroe, one of De Luca's voice students, said his lesson with De Luca is one of the highlights of his week. Monroe, a 23-year-old graduate student in electrical engineering, took an interest in cabaret-style music. De Luca was the perfect teacher.

"He has the ability to see things from the pop-performance perspective as well as the classical technique, making really good sound perspective," Monroe said.

De Luca's deft fingers glided over the piano keys, his foot subtly maneuvering the pedals. He finished the Barry Manilow song, a smile on his face.

He turned to empty chairs waiting to be filled, just as he turns to a full audience in a live show.

"Check please," he said, lifting his arm in the air.

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