Leading actor welcomes the challenges in 'A Bronx Tale'

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SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — "I'm not ready to let go of this character. This is a story I want to tell. There are a lot of people who didn't get to see it on Broadway, and I'm anxious to bring it to them."

So speaks Richard H. Blake about playing Lorenzo in "A Bronx Tale," the musical playing Proctors Theatre in Schenectady Tuesday through Sunday.

This is one of the first stops in a national tour of the musical that just closed a successful run in New York. Blake played the role on Broadway and the producers requested he take the character on the road.

In the show, Lorenzo is the father of a teenage boy who is tempted by Sonny, a charismatic neighborhood gangster, to enter the world of crime. Lorenzo works as a bus driver and lives a humble but honest life, which is in direct contrast with the big-shot hoodlum. The battle for the boy's future is defined by the two men.

In a recent telephone interview, Blake spoke of the challenges with the role. "It's not a glamorous role. He's a basic, good man, who can't compete with the glitzy style of Sonny. He understands why the boy is attracted to the glamour of Sonny's life. His job is to make the boy understand the value of family and the joy of a well-lived life."

Blake also recognizes the rewards of playing a good, honorable man. "I cannot express how good I feel when after every performance someone tells me they are going home and call their father. That's what the show is about — the love of family."

He says the role is especially meaningful to him because it is based on a true man. "This guy really existed," he says explaining that "A Bronx Tale" was written by actor Chazz Palminteri. It was an autobiographical story about his childhood in the Bronx during the 1950s.

Blake also delights in pointing out that in the original film on which the show is based, Lorenzo was played by legendary actor Robert De Niro.

"Who is also a co-director [with Jerry Zaks] of the musical," Blake points out. "No pressure. No pressure," he said, laughing.

Speaking with the actor, it becomes clear he regards this as a once -in-a-lifetime role. "In most musicals," he said, "the songs drive the play and reveal the emotions within the character. This is one of those rare shows that permit an actor to really create a character. Lorenzo is the pillar and the heart of the show. He lives a humble life but is respected by everyone in the neighborhood. Even the mobster shows him respect whenever they meet."

When Blake speaks about a role of a lifetime, it takes on true meaning. He has spent his entire life as an actor. He got his Equity and SAG cards at eight years of age and was in his first Broadway show at 11. He hasn't stopped working since. He's had major roles in "Jersey Boys," "Wicked," "Legally Blonde," "Hairspray," and others too numerous to mention. He also does film, television and voice-over work.

He said, as a child actor, living in Manhattan was filled with temptations, not unlike those facing Cologero, in the show. "I was working with adults at night and during the day I was a kid. New York in the'80s and early'90s was a tough place to raise a kid. Thank God, my parents protected me and found a balance in my life."

Now married with a nine-year old son, Blake says he's never lost his passion for acting, nor his admiration for his parents.

He proudly points out that he's been in the business for 35 years and has never been off the stage longer than four months. More important, he says, he has never had to take a job other than acting.

His resume is top heavy with musicals, and he admits there are times when "I'd love to be doing something like 'True West' in a 200-seat house and feel artistically fulfilled. But musical theater is where the jobs are." He adds, "Roles in plays like `Bronx Tale' and `Jersey Boys' keep the juices flowing.

"Besides, my attitude is that it is the responsibility of the individual to find levels of art in everything you do — be it a commercial or a classic play."

     

Onstage

What: "A Bronx Tale." Book by Chazz Palminteri, based upon his screenplay. Lyrics by Glenn Slater. Music by Alan Menken. Directed by Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks

Where: Proctors Theatre, 432 State St., Schenectady, N.Y.

When: Through Sunday. Evenings — Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30; Thursday through Saturday at 8. Matinees — Thursday at 1:30; Saturday and Sunday at 2

Tickets: $25-$105

Reservations/Information: 518-346-6204; proctors.org


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