By night, as a performer, Eric Anzalone is the sexy “biker,” one of the five outrageous, instantly recognizable guys in the Village People. He gets up on stage in his shiny leather costume with its glittery accessories and sings such huge dance hits as “YMCA,” “Macho Man,” and “In the Navy.”
As part of this beloved, campy ensemble, he travels the world for concerts and also plays lavish private affairs. For example, the Village People once performed on the aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Intrepid, for a bar mitvah reception.
Then, when the shows are over and the tours take a break, Anzalone, who is divorced, comes back to his home in Monroe, puts the leather away, and goes about his business as a regular guy, raising Samantha, his 13-year-old daughter.
“It’s funny, juggling this fantasy world where nothing is real, being on the road, but then coming home to kids, packing lunches, and going to school concerts,” he says, speaking by phone before a rehearsal and meeting in Manhattan. “I enjoy the anonymity of being out of the leather and into my regular clothes. You’ll find me in ShopRite, stocking up on green beans.”
So, when the Village People perform at the State Theater in New Brunswick, Saturday, June 25, it will be literally a local gig for Anzalone, as well as for Felipe Rose, the original “Native-American” and co-founder of the group, who lives in Asbury Park. The other “People” are Alexander Briley, the original “military man/G.I.”; David Hodo, the “construction worker,” also an original; Raymond Simpson, the lead singer and “policeman” since 1979; and Jeff Olson, “the cowboy” since 1980. Anzalone has been with the group since 1995.
The Village People are just the beginning of a hot night of dance fever at the State Theater. They are co-headlining with one of disco’s true divas, Gloria Gaynor, whose anthemic song “I Will Survive” is celebrating its 30th anniversary. (The Village People will perform first.)
The Village People have also rounded the big-30; founded in New York City in 1977, the group has been around for 34 years. “In this business, it’s a blessing after 34 years to still be appreciated,” Anzalone says. “I never get tired of it. It’s a pleasure as a performer, and it’s obviously great to get paid to sing ‘Macho Man’ and ‘YMCA’; it’s the icing on the cake. Also, the group is my extended family. I probably spend more time with them than with my regular family.
“We like to say ‘we’re the party band for the world,’ and even if the economy isn’t doing so well, we still get international work,” he continues. “We were recently in Europe for almost a month, then Japan, and then Brazil. We’ll be playing in South America again in September. We’ll be doing all kinds of big festivals through the summer, too.”
The Village People sprung from an idea conjured by disco producer Jacques Morali, who partnered with lyricists Phil Hurtt and Peter Whitehead to write songs such as “Fire Island” and “San Francisco,” targeted for the late-1970s gay club scene, sung by the earliest incarnation of the group. However, all kinds of club-goers enjoyed the high-energy songs, and word started to get out about the Village People’s party vibe.
The late Neil Bogart, president of Casablanca Records (which also had Donna Summer on its roster of artists), backed Morali’s idea to dress up the singer/actors in the group as a cross-section of macho stereotypes. It was an inside joke to their gay fans but a disco novelty to everyone else. In the next couple of years, the Village People would have major hits, selling millions of records and playing sold-out shows at major concert venues. Their popularity in the U.S. waned in the 1980s, but they were embraced by their international audience. More recently, they’ve been re-embraced by their home country.
Growing up in Santa Barbara, CA, the young Anzalone was more of a rocker, who, in the 1980s, would go on to front the Los Angeles-based heavy metal band Paradigm. His father is a retired nurse-practitioner and his mother was a midwife, now working in the hospice field. Anzalone adds that his father is quite the actor, and alongside his medical career, was always active in community theater. “He was always in shows, and I think that may have been what got me started, watching his rehearsals and shows,” Anazalone says.
Graduating in the early 1980s from Santa Barbara’s San Marcos High School, Anzalone is just one of numerous alums who have enjoyed successful careers in film, television, music and theater. Anthony Edwards, former star of “ER,” went there, as well as actor Eric Stoltz; Dean Dinning, the bass player for Toad the Wet Sprocket; and Tony award-winning actress Cady Huffmann. “She was my high school sweetheart,” Anzalone says.
Coming east to study music and theater at the University of Miami, Anzalone was pleased to find himself working often and left college to perform in a variety of stage productions as well as sing on Princess Cruise Lines.
“One of the rules at the University of Miami was that you couldn’t work professionally, and I was getting jobs, so I quit school,” he says. “Then two years ago I decided to go back and finish my degree. I discovered that the University of Arizona at Tempe has a great film and media school, and thanks to technical advances, I can do it all online. I’ll finish next year with a degree in film and media.”
Before landing the job with the Village People, Anzalone starred as the purple-masked “Donatello” in the world tour of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, after the release of the Turtles’ album “Coming Out of Their Shells.” He returned to the famous green costume, but now is playing “Raphael,” for the kids’ films “We Wish You a Turtle Christmas” and “Turtle Tunes.”
Arriving in New York in 1992, Anzalone took some time off to pursue a music career more seriously. “I had some money saved, so I thought, ‘let me see if I can find a band,’” he says. “I looked in the Village Voice, and there was an ad that read, ‘well-known group looking for a singer with a passport.’ I said to myself, they must be working if they need someone with a passport. So I put my package together and sent it in, and then forgot about it.
“A while later, I got a call for an audition, and I asked ‘what’s the group?’ and they said `it’s the Village People.’ I thought, oh it’s probably a Village People cover or tribute band or something, but I went for the audition, and they were there. I said ‘wow, you really are the Village People.’”
Anzalone is also a writer and screenwriter who has written a book, two full-length feature screenplays, as well as treatments for episodic TV. The ABC network has shown interest in his book “Collisions Course” as a possible series. This book is re-titled and updated from his original book, “Humanities,” and both were written under the pen name of J.E. Anzalone.
“It’s about a group of kids in high school in the early ’80s, with a homework assignment to reunite 20 years later,” he says. “The catch is, in 20 years, you come alone, no spouses, lovers, or kids, and there are no strings attached. It’s about a week of being a kid again, and it just all falls apart.
“One of the characters is a singer in a retro band, and he’s juggling midlife with life on the road, kids, and whatnot,” Anzalone says. “Now he’s getting back together with friends, including his old high school girlfriend. The network thought it would be kind of fun, with Generation Xers reaching middle age.”
He reflects that, like most parents, his very much wanted him to finish college and were worried when he left school for a career in the performing arts. “I’ve been working constantly since 1988, singing on cruises, doing theater, commercials, you name it, and I showed that I could earn a living,” Anzalone says. “My parents have been very impressed. And when you ask them, ‘what does your son do for a living?’ they say, ‘well, you know that song `Macho Man?’”
The Village People and Gloria Gaynor, State Theater, 15 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick. Saturday, June 25, 8 p.m. An evening featuring “I Will Survive,” “YMCA,” and more. $42 to $58. The Village People on the Web: www.officialvillagepeople.com 732-246-7469 or www.StateTheatreNJ.org.