Not His Cross to Bear

Anthony has started to select the songs for his upcoming album, which he says will be one of powerful pop ballads. He talks excitedly about working with producer Walter Afanasieff, who has also worked with Celine Dion, and he says the style will thus be somewhere along the lines of Dion, Michael Bolton, and Mariah Carey. This may lead to suspicions that his motives are rather more commercial than Anthony lets on, but keep in mind this is a guy who cites Air Supply as one of his biggest influences.

The singer's desire to take on projects for art's sake is evident in the roles he's taken as an actor, another area in which he has effortlessly crossed ... oh, never mind. Suffice it to say that Anthony spent most of the past year preparing for his role in Paul Simon's musical The Capeman, in which he starred with Ruben Blades. The play was mercilessly trashed by critics during its short-lived run on Broadway. Anthony, however, will remember it as a "fantastic" experience, if only because of the talents involved and the professional scale of the production. "It was like going to Harvard," he says, noting that not so many years ago he had a gig as Ruben Blades's concert water boy and there they were sharing a stage.

Bone-thin and a little homely in person, Anthony projects a leading-man handsomeness onscreen. In Big Night he played the shy waiter. In The Substitute, with Tom Berenger, he was oustandingly nasty as a gang leader. He has just signed up to do a movie with "one of America's greatest directors." Details to come.

Anthony is inarguably a born performer. Even his vehement critics are fans of his live shows. The Los Angeles Times has compared his stage presence to Mick Jagger's. He tours backed by a thirteen-piece combo of New York musicians, and he gives them room to play, a rarity in today's Latin music scene where chart-topping acts often appear onstage with a makeshift band and perform the same hit song three times during one set.

"I've always concentrated on concerts, not on records," he says. "Songs grow when you perform them. Music is like wine -- when you let it breathe, it just gets better. And that's what singing live is all about." One staple of his show: a salsa-ed up version of "I Will Survive."

Anthony is currently on his first tour since the release of Contra la Corriente. On Friday and Saturday he will perform here, where he logically has a lot of fans among the bilingual community (the Saturday show is sold out.) Anthony's girlfriend lives here and he visits frequently enough that he plans to buy an apartment on the Beach. "You can really feel life in the air," Anthony says of our town. "There are all kinds of cultural exchanges going on."

On a recent trip to Miami, Anthony showed up late one night at Cafe Nostalgia with a posse of friends. At first he sat in the corner, a baseball cap pulled down over his face. Cajoled by the band, he eventually relented, but would only sing backup. He was last spotted at 4:00 a.m., dancing down the middle of Calle Ocho, twirling around and around. The moment captured his fancy-free nature.

"I'm just unafraid. The trick is not to put yourself in a bind. You can do as much as you want as long as one project isn't enough to make or break you. I haven't put all my eggs in one basket. I think you can walk into any situation and say, 'Look, man, I just want to learn,'" he says with a gusto that suggests he could have another crossover career as a motivational speaker. "What can go wrong?"

Marc Anthony performs Friday, August 21, at 9:00 p.m. and Saturday, August 22 (sold out), at 8:00 p.m. at the Jackie Gleason Theater of the Performing Arts, 1700 Washington Ave, Miami Beach; 305-673-7300. Tickets are $25 to $45.

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