On a lawn freckled with blankets, chairs and swooning fans, sweet-voiced Brighton Beach boy Neil Sedaka proved that “Breaking up is Hard to Do” with his beloved Brooklyn when he returned to tickle the ivories and float his beguiling vocals over Asser Levy Park, where he helped kick off a month of free summer concerts with fellow musical icon Brenda Lee, July 15.
The Lincoln High School Class of ‘56 alum, who has penned, performed, produced and inspired countless songs — among them, “Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen,” “Calendar Girl” and “Stairway to Heaven” — had fans dancing, clapping, singing along and just plain ecstatic to be in the same airspace as the pop great, who wowed them with his memorable melodies about the trials and rewards of youth.
“He’ll always be a teenager to me!” gushed a woman, who said she waited “for hours” in the sweltering heat to catch a glimpse of the 71-year-old mega-star, who grew up in a humble apartment not far from the park, and whose father, Mac, drove a cab.
“It was well worth it,” she added.
Dressed in a red short-sleeved shirt and khaki pants, Sedaka appeared relaxed and very much at home as he performed a battery of ballads for captivated visitors, some of whom weren’t even a twinkling on the horizon when Sedaka was chosen as one of the seven best New York high school classical pianists by the legendary Arthur Rubinstein, and awarded a scholarship at the prestigious Juilliard School of Music.
The applause seemed to go on forever for Sedaka, who seemed as unwilling to leave as the crowd was to have him go.
He might have been a tough act to follow for some at the 32nd annual concert, founded by Borough President Markowitz, but not for Brenda Mae Tarpley — better known as Brenda Lee.
That crowd’s darling had seniors to students locking arms and swaying side to side as the velvet-tongued Atlantan — wearing a black pantsuit and sporting her trademark blonde bouffant — re-ignited the stage, just vacated by her old pal, with a cannon of her own popular hits, including such time-honored classics as “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “I’m Sorry,” “Jambalaya” and “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”
Lee, 66, held her fans spellbound as she demonstrated why she has sold an estimated 100 million records, and continues to endear herself to new generations of listeners.
“She showed us tonight why she was inducted into the Country Music and Rock and Roll halls of fame,” said one happy fan.
The concerts, presented by Borough President Markowitz, continue with a stellar line-up, including the Beach Boys (July 22), George Thorogood and the Destroyers (July 29), John Legend (August 5) and Aretha Franklin (August 12).
Asser Levy Park [West Fifth Street and Surf Avenue, bordering Coney Island and Brighton Beach], Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; www.brooklynconcerts.com.