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20 years later, Starlight still shines

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Crooner brings star power, show-biz legends to new digs


Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: VIRGINIA WERNER - Tony Starlight, aka Brett Kucera, says, Im like Turner Classic Movies, playing the old stuff again.Tony Starlight, known outside of the spotlight as Brett Kucera, marks 20 years as director, writer, producer and performer of “The Tony Starlight Show” in his new Southeast Portland location with a weekend of performances.

An accomplished entertainer and businessman, Starlight will follow the evolution of his show over the past 20 years, picking out highlights and making fun of his gradual loss of hair.

Despite “doing this longer than I should have,” Starlight remains committed to transporting his audience back in time to the classic nightclub era, reminiscing with performances in tribute to the likes of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin to go with a night of food and drinks.

Check out the show at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 21 and 22, at the Tony Starlight Showroom, 1125 S.E. Madison St. Tickets start at $25. For more information: www.tonystarlight.com

The Tribune sat down for a conversation with Starlight:

Tribune: It says on your website, “Twenty years is a long time to do anything.” Does it feel like it’s been a long time to you?

Starlight: No, because I’m still excited about it every day. This new location allows me to focus more on the show than running a restaurant, and allows me to present the show how I really want to. That’s been the arc of the show — I work on something, and then I want more and dive in. Thank goodness it feels fresh still, but when I sit back and look at it, that is a long time. I played places like Jimmy Mak’s, The 1201 Club, The Gypsy ... some places that aren’t around anymore.

Tribune: What’s unique about this type of show?

Starlight: A lot of what I do is nostalgia-type stuff. Now, there are people my age who have kids that are raised, and they can go for a night out and reminisce again. I’m like Turner Classic Movies, playing the old stuff again. It’s like the friendships you make when you’re young. You drift apart from those people, but you can be in a room with them and you’re instantly back in seconds. It’s hard to make friends like that later in life, but it’s easier when you’re young. Time is a different commodity as you grow older. I think the same thing is true of the music of your youth. When we do Neil Diamond or Elton John, people go back in their mind and are transported back in time. It’s fun to be able to do that for people. … Connecting personally with people makes them want to return to the show.

Tribune: What was it like working at a venue you own? How is this new venue different?

Starlight: It can be stressful. I’d walk out on stage and try to sing and be in character, but I would be thinking, “Table six needs water!” or “Is anyone going to greet those people at the door?” I couldn’t take off the hats. Now there is more of a division of labor. … The model I have is dinner and a show, and it’s a tough one. I know why people don’t do it. It’s hard.

Tribune: Do you interact with the audience a lot?

Starlight: Yes, interaction is what makes it special. If I’m competing with a 60-inch television at home, I need to bring something to the person here that they can’t get at home. We love to get people up on stage and involved in the show. Eye contact while singing is important, too. If you sing something powerful you can see someone get choked up or smile, and you share that powerful emotion with them. It’s rewarding for both of us.

Tribune: I think one of the worst parts about going to a big show is when it seems really impersonal. They just keep saying, “Hey ... Portland! You guys are great!”

Starlight: And then tomorrow it’s, “Hey ... Seattle!” I think that what I do is a Vegas type of thing, but unlike when I was in Vegas, in Portland I could have more autonomy and create personal connections with customers, bandmates ... be a part of a community. And Portland is a town that supports odd things, and what I’m doing is an odd thing.

Tribune: I was reading some Yelp reviews of your club, and one of them said you’re the most hard-working man in Portland. Do you agree with this?

Starlight: I do not agree with that. A lot of the key to my success and success in any other business is to never repeat mistakes. I do not ever rest on, “This is good enough.” I’m only happier if it’s better each time and if everyone around me gets better each time. I always dive in over my head. People want me to do Duran Duran? OK, I’ll do it. And then during rehearsals I’m thinking, “I can’t sing this high.” Simon Le Bon has a different vocal range entirely. But I just worked really hard and eventually was able to do something I couldn’t do before.

I like being challenged and pushed, and if there is no outside force and you’re your own, you have to challenge yourself and set your course. I have made the big proclamation that every show will be bigger and better, and I’ve had to focus and figure out how I’m going to elevate it every time. We want to make coming out here an “occasion” for everyone, we want to make it special. That’s why I’m having this 20-year anniversary special, to mark this so I can sit down and appreciate and take stock on what I’ve succeeded at, failed at, and what I still need to do. I’m overwhelmingly grateful for the opportunities I’ve had, and I don’t know anyone who is grateful who is an unhappy person.