The Mario 101: Sean Patrick Murtagh pays homage to Mario Lanza at Martuni's

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday December 6, 2022
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Sean Patrick Murtagh
Sean Patrick Murtagh

Former San Franciscan Sean Patrick Murtagh offers an impressive debut CD with "The Mario 101," an homage to the great Hollywood tenor Mario Lanza.

The album, which is now available, features a dozen songs from the Lanza songbook. The song choices represent a wide array of musical genres, everything from show tunes like "On the Street Where You Live" from the classic musical "My Fair Lady," to operatic standards such as "E Lucevan Le Stelle" from Puccini's "Tosca," to grand torch songs like Cole Porter's "Night and Day."

Every song on the album was at one time recorded by Lanza, and Murtagh does a magnificent job of channeling the late tenor's spirit. Lanza's film career was brief. He only made a handful of films before succumbing to illness at age 38 in 1959. Today he remains an almost legendary figure in the world of music, remembered and respected for his powerful vocals. Murtagh refers to Lanza as "a marvelous tenor" and "a once in a lifetime talent."

"When I talk about Mario Lanza to other people, you see their eyes light up," Murtagh said in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter. "And I'm talking about people of all ages. And so you see an entire range of generations that get warm fuzzy feelings when the name Mario Lanza is mentioned."

Murtagh looks upon Lanza as a mentor. "He's someone to aspire to," he said.

Murtagh was introduced to Lanza by his voice teacher Richard Nickol, a musical theater performer who opened a voice studio in San Francisco. At first Murtagh found it exciting to explore Lanza's voice and work, but then he and Nickol had a falling out, and they went their separate ways. Murtagh proceeded to push everything he learned from Nickol out of his life.

"And then one day I got a phone call that Richard had died," Murtagh recalls. "And so here I am with all this trauma and hard feelings that I'm now never going to get closure on."

He began to listen to Lanza again as away of processing his grief over the loss of Nickol.

"And one day I was listening and it was so beautiful that I started crying," he said. "I was having this emotional release of everything I was holding on to and holding against Richard and the dream he started for me but wasn't able to finish. I am a really spiritual person and I felt this was a spiritual moment where I had both Mario and Richard helping me to get back to this journey."

He put together a show, performing at The Green Room, a cabaret in New York City. His performances were well received, and he won the 2020 Mac Award, the Manhattan Association of Concerts and Cabarets.

Return to Martuni's
He continues to perform in San Francisco, and does an annual Christmas show at Martuni's, which this year will be seen on December 18 at 4pm and December 20 at 7pm.

Sean Patrick Murtagh  

"I love Christmas music and holiday music in general," he said. "And being half Latino and half Irish, Christmas is very interesting in my home, with lots of stories. So I have all these stories about Christmas."

He calls his San Francisco show "Holiday Test Drive," as a reference to the holiday test drive events that car companies have every year. The Martuni's show, which often sells out, is now in its tenth year.

"People send cards and newsletters for holidays to let people know what the year's been like and what they've been up to and things they're looking forward to," Murtagh said. "And that's what this cabaret came to be for me, a holiday newsletter set to music. I get to tell people about my adventures in New York, talk about stories from Christmases past, both funny and meaningful, and I sing a whole variety of Christmas songs. What's most mind boggling to me is how people have made this part of their holiday tradition, and every year they bring friends. It's a really fun time."

Murtagh said he will commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Martuni's show by doing a little bit of everything.

"This year is extra special because it's my second holiday with my boyfriend," he said. "But Hanukkah is lined up with Christmas this year, the first night of the concert is the first night of Hanukkah. And so I'll be doing a Sephardic holiday song to capture that part of this new holiday tradition that's now become part of my life."

And since this show is his new one, he'll be doing a few songs from the Mario Lanza album.

"To say that this is something I did this year, and I'm proud of it," he said.

Murtagh continues to pursue theater and has begun to get called in for TV projects. He's been seen on Investigation Discovery, and has also done a few short films.

"As things are opening back up it seems to all be going well," he said. "I get my audition requests from my agents and I film them and send them back and hope for the best."

Sean Patrick Murtagh's 'Holiday Test Drive', $25. Sunday December 18 at 4pm, Tuesday December 20 at 7pm. Martuni's, 4 Valencia St.

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