They’ll remember when rock was young at the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School when entertainer Michael Cavanaugh performs the songs of Elton John.
Cavanaugh is headlining the school’s annual Spotlight event on June 4. It will be his second time at Spotlight; he was such a hit in 2010, when he performed a Billy Joel show, that organizers have brought him back for a return engagement.
Cavanaugh was handpicked by Joel to perform in the Broadway show “Movin’ Out,” in which he played for three years — more than 1,200 performances — before the show closed in 2005. Since then, he’s been touring in three separate productions: Billy Joel, Elton John and a third showcasing singer-songwriters Paul Simon, Neil Diamond and James Taylor.
Spotlight consists of a VIP dinner buffet, the concert in the 1,600-seat Dahan Sanctuary and a dessert reception.
Spotlight is Beth Tfiloh’s major annual event in support of the school’s scholarship fund, which provides financial aid for 40 percent of BT’s students. Co-chairs Wendy and Craig Friedman of Owings Mills said Spotlight is enormously important for the school, noting that last year alone BT gave out $2 million in financial aid.
“The student body is incredibly div-erse,” said Craig Freidman, who added that the students come from a wide range of family and economic situations and that Spotlight goes a long way in maintaining that diversity.
In addition, noted Wendy Friedman, the evening is so much fun.
“Once people come, I always say, ‘You’re going to come again,’” she said.
This year’s Spotlight honoree is Arnold Cohen, chairman of the board of the Elias Wilf Corporation whose Jewish communal involvement spans five decades. Cohen and his wife, Reba, are staunch supporters of Beth Tfiloh Congregation and the Dahan Community School as well as many other Jewish educational organizations. Beth Tfiloh’s Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg described Cohen as “the quintessential mentsch. “He is a shul mentsch, a family man and a gentleman,” said the rabbi.
Ahead of his performance, Cava-naugh, 40, shared some thoughts with the JT about the show, life on and off the road and his plans for the future. He said attendees at Spotlight will hear songs such as “Bennie and the Jets,” “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” “Philadelphia Freedom” and many other favorites from the ’70s and ’80s.
“We focus on the classics,” Cava-naugh said, although he’ll likely mix it up a little with songs from other well-known artists. He said the audience should keep an ear out for surprises.
“Sometimes, I sneak in my own material,” he said. “Audiences love to hear what they know, and I know we’re going to have a blast.”
BT is one stop on Cavanaugh’s summer tour; he plays quite a few charity and corporate shows. Rec-ently, during a weeklong stretch, he and his band were in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Florida on Wednesday and Maui on Friday.
“We’re usually flying all over the place,” he said.
Because Cavanaugh plays a lot of private dates such as Spotlight, the schedule tends to be a bit crazy. He said there will be some downtime in July, but in August, he’s playing in Italy. He’ll take the family on that gig.
Cavanaugh did note that he tends to play for many Jewish organizations. The band, for example, played Adath Israel Synagogue in Philadelphia in May and a largely Jewish event in Houston in April.
“Not bad for a guy named Cavanaugh,” he said with a smile.
Still, life on the road can be tough — he misses his family.
Cavanaugh lives in Henderson, Nev., with his wife and two sons. Henderson is just 15 minutes from Las Vegas, but it’s a quiet, suburban place, light years away from the big-city flash of Vegas. When home, Cavanaugh is a “hands-on” suburban dad.
“Like the dad from ‘Leave It To Beaver,’” he said jokingly. “If I have one beer, I’ll fall asleep.”
But he won’t leave the music world. He’s been playing since he was a little boy.
“I really started with the snare drum at age 4,” he said, noting that somehow “that noisy drum magically disappeared one day.”
When he was 6, his mom bought a piano because she loved to play. But he soon started playing, too. And he’s always loved to sing. Cavanaugh plays guitar and other instruments, but the piano is home base.
“When I write music, the piano still wins. I do feel I can do the most on the piano,” he said.
Cavanaugh hopes to put out a CD this year, and future projects include more songwriting and possible TV work.
For Spotlight ticket information, visit bethtfiloh.com/spotlight.
Amy Landsman is an area freelance writer.