Real Diamond rocks The Colonial Center

From the first note of the intro to the last note of “America,” Real Diamond, a Neil Diamond tribute band, had the audience at The Colonial Center for Performing Arts in South Hill enthralled last Saturday night.

The 11-piece band had obviously paid great attention to detail. Headed by a thoroughly engaging performance by Curtis Didomizio, Real Diamond led the crowd through an exciting evening of nostalgic fun.

Didomizio, who sings Diamond’s songs in the show, had quite an introduction to musical entertainment long before he began setting up the tribute band in 2008.

“I’ve been an entertainer my whole life, since I was probably 7,” Didomizio said in an interview before the show. “My uncle was best friends with Elvis. They were in the Army together, and they stayed very close afterward, so I was around him, and star struck, at a very young age. I always wanted to do an Elvis tribute, because I knew him. But people would say, ‘You sound like Neil Diamond!’ As I got older I got more into it, and it just took off from there. But I always tell people I’m not a Neil Diamond impersonator, this is a tribute.”

Throughout Saturday’s performance between the songs, Didomizio interspersed bits of humor with band members and amusing anecdotes about experiences on the road. He even sang a song that he wrote himself, “Diamond Girls,” using Diamond’s song titles and the “ladies” who accompanied  songs like “Sweet Caroline” and “Cherry Cherry.”  But he never strayed from his determination to keep the show “Real.”

“I actually wanted to keep it as close to Neil as possible, meaning band members and all that stuff,” he said, “so I developed it around what he does. Our slogan is ‘Keeping it Neal.’ I just love his songs and loved the way he performed them, and I do it like you’re seeing Neil Diamond when he was younger and trying to keep true to that.”

“I’m trying to keep his music alive,” Didomizio noted. “I know he still tours, but he’s much older now and unfortunately the music industry now is awful — no more record companies, music stores. He’s such an incredible songwriter and has written so much for other people, and I’ve just been trying to share that.”

And share it he did, through a set list of 22 songs, nearly every one a Diamond classic. He obviously loved playing to the enthusiastic, largely Southern audience.

“I have Southern roots in Arkansas,” he said, laughing. “When we were kids, I’d come back to Pennsylvania talking like that, and my Italian friends were going, ‘What you talking like that for?’”

“But my voice always sounded like Neil’s, so I was lucky that way — baritone and northern East Coast accent,” Didomizio continued. “The music, the band, that started in 2008, and we didn’t do the first show until late 2009 because it took that long to do it right.”

Didomizio was also excited about the recent opening in Las Vegas of a documentary film featuring the band.

“It’s called ‘Diamond Mountain,’” he said. “They researched all tribute bands in the entire world, New Zealand, everywhere , filmed backstage, behind stage, about Neil Diamond tribute bands. They picked 13 bands, and we were the featured band. Everyone in Vegas was like, ‘Real Diamond made the video!’”

Obviously not one to sit and let life pass him by, when he’s not onstage, Didomizio is working on a musical about Ronnie Tutt.

“It’s called ‘Ronnie,’” he said, “about a dear friend of mine of many years who was Elvis’s drummer, and then he went on to be Neil Diamond’s drummer and has been that for 30 years. It’s about his life. I wrote the script about seven years ago. What person in the world played in Elvis’s band and Neil Diamond’s band? This guy has seen it done it. He was a prodigy. Excelled at everything. So I’m making a Broadway musical about his life.”

Didomizio paused for a moment, then said, “Actually, I guess it’s about my philosophy too. Live life to the fullest every day. I really believe that.  Never settle.”