Dirty Dancing, Danger Bay and the Edmonton stage: Zappacosta on his musical odyssey

Alfie Zappacosta, who lent his distinctive baritone voice to some of the big hits of the 1980s, now leads a quiet life in Edmonton.

'It's not a lot of people that can say, I saved a baby shark'

Singer-songwriter Alfie Zappacosta has called Edmonton home for more than 20 years. (Alfie Zappacosta/Facebook )

Alfie Zappacosta may be the only shark tamer in the city of Edmonton. 

Zappacosta lent his distinctive baritone voice to some big hits of the 1980s, but now leads a quiet life in Edmonton's Crestwood neighbourhood. There, he enjoys long walks in the river valley and plenty of family time, out of the limelight.

He may have lost his status as a household name, but in the 1980s, Zappacosta was at the top of his game.

Zappacosta's hit Overload was featured on the soundtrack for Dirty Dancing.

The Italian-born singer was once the king of the Canadian pop rock charts, with a catalogue of hits like We Should be Lovers and Nothing Can Stand In Your Way.

After rising to fame with his band Surrender, he hit the big time in 1987, when his original song Overload was featured in the multi-platinum soundtrack for the Patrick Swayze classic, Dirty Dancing.

The following year, he was awarded JUNO awards for Album of The Year and Most Promising Artist, an American Music Award for Most Popular Album of The Year and named the Canadian Publishers Music Association's Best Rock Star.

At the pinnacle of his career, Walt Disney's Danger Bay brought Zappacosta an episode written specifically for him titled Rock Star. Of all his accolades, Zappacosta remembers that episode from the Canadian TV series with a particular fondness.

"It's not a lot of people that can say, I saved a baby shark," Zappacosta said with a laugh during a special live broadcast of Edmonton AM last week at Café​ Blackbird in Crestwood.

"I saved a baby shark because of some clowns sort of tripping over some wires," he said.

"People just thought that I could do just about anything, but I had never done anything like that in my life as far as my acting."

Zappacosta said he struggled to stay in character during his scenes in the wholesome Canadian television hit because his fellow actor, a little girl who named Ocean who played the leading role, was not there for the taping of his lines.

The director of the show was used as a stand-in, much to Zappacosta's amusement.

"Ocean was the star, but I wouldn't be talking to her," he said, shaking his tousled silver hair.

"I was talking to the director. He was a wonderful guy but he looked like a little bit of a scarecrow with big buck teeth, so I had a really hard time with the camera cutting back and forth."

Zappacosta has been based in Edmonton for more than two decades, but hit the road again earlier this year to promote a new live record.

'Never looked back'

Before moving to Alberta, Zappacosta had been working in Toronto's theatre scene, playing the lead in Jesus Christ Superstar and Che Guevara in Evita. Then, much to his chagrin, producers cast him in a new production of Jesus Christ Superstar in Edmonton.

"I promised that I would never do another play again or another Danger Bay episode ... I didn't think I could handle the stress anymore, but they kept upping the money," Zappacosta said. "I was very seriously not going to do it and they just kept upping it. And finally, my wife said, 'You're doing the damn thing.'

So he came to Edmonton and fell in love with the city. He and his wife bought a house and settled in with their young son and daughter.

"We came out here and never looked back," he said. "It's been wonderful."

Zappacosta has moved on from pop-rock to smooth jazz, but still performs some of his old songs.

After promoting his new album No Avoiding Clichés with a cross-Canada tour, he came back to perform regularly at his favourite Edmonton venues, like Blackbird Café. He's set to perform there this month.

The café is just a few blocks from his house, and performing there during the holidays has become become a tradition for the singer.

The limelight has dimmed and the crowds are smaller, but he'll never quit loving music. 

"I give everybody sheets of carols, and get an extra microphone, do some of my tunes, run out and get everybody singing my songs along with me," he said of his upcoming Christmas shows Dc. 21 and 22.

"It's great, because you get people that are completely tone-deaf and those are the people that I keep the microphone on as a long as possible, not to embarrass them or anything.

"Everybody has a really great time."

From Hollywood to the stage, the 'Zapp' had many stories to tell during a special live broadcast of Edmonton AM. (CBC)


Wallis Snowdon is a journalist with CBC Edmonton focused on bringing stories to the website and the airwaves. Originally from New Brunswick, Wallis has reported in communities across Canada, from Halifax to Fort McMurray. She previously worked as a digital and current affairs producer with CBC Radio in Edmonton. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca.