'Phantom' loves to entertain
By JORGE SANCHEZ
© St. Petersburg Times,
HOMOSASSA -- For 34 years, Paul Stevio wore a badge and a gun as a lawman. His second career as an entertainer still finds him in uniform sometimes, but as the Phantom of the Opera.
Stevio retired as a patrol sergeant in New Jersey last year and moved to Citrus County about seven months ago. He decided to begin his second career as a full-time professional singer.
He is a featured weekend performer at The Seagrass Pub & Grill on Halls River Road. A high point of his show comes when he puts on the black robe and white mask of the tragic lead character in Andrew Lloyd Weber's Phantom of the Opera and performs the The Music of the Night. He thrills audience members, mostly women, by giving them a rose during the song.
Shortly before he moved to Florida, Stevio sang at a prestigious law enforcement memorial service attended by President George W. Bush.
Stevio, 53, also performed in May 2001 at the National Peace Officers' Memorial Service in Washington, which honored law enforcement officers throughout the nation who lost their lives in the line of duty. Bush was the keynote speaker, and Stevio sang What We Believe In.
"It was the final song," he said recalling the event. "It was amazing. I don't know how many thousands of police officers were there, from all over, England, Puerto Rico and across the U.S. There were 10,000 for the memorial service."
Stevio knows the loss associated with law enforcement all too well.
"My best friend, also a policeman, was shot and killed by a sniper in 1975. I had only been on the force nine months when it happened. I dedicated (the song) to him."
Recalling the event, he said the gunman was mentally deranged and lured police into an ambush by firing at civilians.
"When the police came in, he fired three shots and killed three of them," Stevio said.
Stevio discovered his musical career about 23 years ago.
"It was by accident. I was working out in a gym, and a girl came in and asked me if I wanted to be in a show called Kismet," he said. "I had a few lines and sang in the chorus."
A long association with community theater followed. The pinnacle of his New Jersey career came when he landed the job as lead vocalist for Johnathan's Big Band, a 50-piece orchestra. The gig lasted for 12 years.
"I won the talent contest he held by singing The Impossible Dream," Stevio said.
He also performed at several casinos in Atlantic City and was the opening act at the Ms. Senior New Jersey Pageant.
When he moved to Citrus, Stevio traded the big band for a one-man show that uses compact discs with music; he supplies the vocals. He auditioned for The Seagrass Pub shortly after Easter. He impressed the owners so much they hired him as their featured weekend entertainer.
"I do a lot of Elvis, Sinatra, Neil Diamond, and I'm learning country," he said.
As part of the show, he does the Phantom tribute, which is very popular with the audience.
Stevio performs the four-hour job without taking the customary 15-minute break after each 45-minute set.
"I interact with the crowd," he said."As soon as I get in that door and see the people, it's like electricity. The people there have become like family."
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