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Richard H. Blake gets personal in the musical A Bronx Tale
Welcome to Building Character, our ongoing look at actors and how they create their roles.
For all the things it's about – New York City in the 1960s, the ups and downs of Italian-Americans, the ways a neighborhood can shape your identity – A Bronx Tale is especially about fathers. Based on Chazz Palminteri's autobiographical play (and the subsequent film starring Palminteri and Robert De Niro), this new Broadway musical follows a kid named Calogero as he learns how to be a man. On one hand, he gets lessons from Sonny, the local mobster who runs the streets and seems almost invincible. The hood takes Calogero (or "C," as he calls him) under his wing, and the kid gets besotted with what he sees. But on the other hand, C's beholden to his dad Lorenzo, a hard-working bus driver who commands a different kind of respect. A loving father and stand-up citizen, he wants his son to live by his talent, not his muscle.
For Richard H. Blake, who plays Lorenzo, the character feels increasingly personal. Before a recent rehearsal at the Longacre Theatre, where A Bronx Tale is currently in previews, he called to discuss his take on the role and all the reasons he responds to it.
Mark Blankenship, TDF Stages Editor: The night I saw the show, I was surrounded by people who had grown up in the Bronx, and they all kept talking about how much they recognized their own lives on stage. Have you noticed that kind of reaction?
Richard H. Blake: That is one of the really cool things about this particular story. It is so specific to a particular location and a particular time, and so many people from this area relate to it. Even the ones who aren't necessarily from the Bronx, but are from New York and New Jersey and the surrounding areas, still really understand this culture. People come in and they know this neighborhood.
MB: So I guess the obvious question is… where are you from? Do you know the world of this show?
RB: I'm originally from Providence, Rhode Island, but I moved to Manhattan very young because I was a child actor. I started working when I was eight years old, and I've been in New York ever since. And I grew up uptown in Washington Heights.
MB: Not that far from the Bronx!
RB: And even when I lived in Rhode Island, Providence was an Italian-run city, which was very similar.
MB: So along with pulling on your own childhood memories, what other kind of prep work did you do to play this role?
RB: I had the luxury of having Chazz really sit and go over what life was like for him. What life was like for his father. What the route was that his father drove every day on the bus. And I also have the luxury of being the dad of a young boy myself. That in itself is great research for this role, because I aspire to be the kind of father that Lorenzo was.
MB: Plus, you've had years to think about who Lorenzo is. I know you did a workshop of the show a few years ago, and you were in the production at Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey earlier this year. Have you learned anything about your character during the Broadway iteration that you didn't know before?
RB: I'm constantly learning about this man. There are scenes that are the same scenes from Paper Mill, but I play them slightly differently now because I feel that Lorenzo has changed between then and now.
MB: Interesting! Does any particular scene spring to mind?
RB: Definitely. The scene with Little C, my little son, where I try to tell him that it's not the right way to live, being like Sonny. That scene is being handled in a different way. I don't want to give anything way, but it used to be very logical. It's far more impassioned now. There's definitely this fear in Lorenzo that he has to get through to his son. It's stronger now than it was before.
MB: Where did that new take on the scene come from?
RB: It's talking to Chazz. It's letting the character settle in more. And it's working with different people and how they work with me. We have a new Young Calogero now. [A child actor plays Young Calogero in the show, and an adult plays the character as a teenager. – ED.] Joshua Colley played Young C before, and he was a little bit bigger. And it makes a difference. Hudson Loverro is a little smaller, and I feel like I need to cradle him a little more. [laughs]
And like I said, I'm drawing from my own life. My son is older now than he was when we did Paper Mill, and I can reason with him more. He's five years old, so in the last seven, eight months, he's grown exponentially. His reasoning skills have grown so much that I realize I really have to reason with my kid. And it's not easy!
Follow TDF Stages editor Mark Blankenship at @IAmBlankenship. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.
Photos by Joan Marcus. Top photo (L to R): Hudson Loverro, Richard H. Blake, and Lucia Giannetta.
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