It’s six o’clock on a Monday, the regular crowd shuffles in.
A sold-out crowd shuffled into Sag Harbor Cinema on Monday evening for a sneak preview of “Billy Joel: Live at Yankee Stadium,” a re-edited film of the Piano Man's 1990 concert. The Sag Harbor crowd included Billy Joel himself.
“I’m taking my wife to the movies,” Joel told Newsday before entering the theater.
Joel - who owns a home in Sag Harbor, a village on Long Island’s East End - arrived shortly before the 6 p.m. start. With a bucket of popcorn in one hand and a cup of soda in the other, he took his seat, sixth-row center, next to his wife Alexis.
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The 73-year-old Joel then relived one of his most iconic performances, the big screen playing a memory from when he wore a younger man's clothes.
The crowd in the 240-seat theater applauded after each song, some even swung their arms in unison during "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant" as they were waving Brenda and Eddie goodbye.
The footage of the concert, shot using 16mm film during Joel's two concerts at Yankee Stadium in June of 1990, originally aired as a Disney Special. The re-edited film, featuring interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, was re-mixed in 4K with Dolby Atmos audio and will be in theaters for a two-night only event on Oct. 5 and Oct. 9.
“Expect to enjoy it like you're going to a live show,” said Steve Cohen, Joel’s longtime lighting designer who is one of the film's producers. “You’re on stage with these guys and you're also in the audience, as well, because the way the sound mix is, it's immersive so you are sitting right in the middle of the crowd. You are hearing it with great sound and yet you're on stage observing them at close range. And you're going to see Billy at the peak of his prowess.”
Fittingly, the first public viewing of the concert film from “The House that Ruth Built” was in the theater that Joel helped rebuild. A famed community hub with a signature neon sign on its Main Street facade, the theater was nearly destroyed by a fire in December 2016. Joel was one of many who made a donation as part of a multi-million dollar fundraising effort, for which he had a popcorn stand named after him. The theater was rebuilt, opening in June 2021.
“This theater is important to me,” said Cohen, also a Sag Harbor resident. “When it burned down and Billy contributed the first check to rebuild this theater, after it was finished they gave me a tour… I said, ‘Man, I have to put something in this room because the projector is great, the sound is great. Fast forward a year and a half later, here we are.”
Come Wednesday, they’ll be back at Madison Square Garden, where Joel will return to a much more familiar seat - his piano stool - for the 82nd show of his arena residency.
He’ll be joined on stage by members of his band who were seated at the theater Monday, including Crystal Taliefero, Tommy Byrnes, Dave Rosenthal and Mike DelGuidice.
When longtime Joel fan Sandi Lippel took her seat in the theater, she noticed reserved signs in the row behind her. One was for "Bill" and another for "Alexis.”
“So, I was like, 'I cannot believe I am sitting in front of Billy Joel!'" said Lippel, a native of Flushing, N.Y. "I was very, very excited. obviously. I was hearing him talk to Brian Ruggles (Joel's longtime sound engineer) the whole time. It was awesome to hear their commentary.”
Eric Fellen of Scotch Plains, New Jersey attended the Yankee Stadium concert on June 22, 1990 and was featured in the original film holding a blue vanity license plate that read "JOEL FN." He brought the license plate to the Sag Harbor screening Monday, and has a cameo in the re-edited film.
“I had no idea I was going to be in this," Fellen said. “I was hoping. It was nice to see me in 4k. My 18-year-old self. Back then I had hair. Now, I don't.”
After the film concluded, there was a Q&A session with Cohen, fellow producer John Jackson and director Jon Small. Fans thanked them for bringing the concert back to life and taking them back in time. The star of the show then raised his hand to ask a question.
“When do we get something to eat?” Joel asked, drawing a laugh from the crowd. “I’m starving!”
Dinner and a movie for the Piano Man and his wife.