Richard H. Blake was one of the original stars of “A Bronx Tale, the Musical” when it opened on Broadway in 2016. He portrayed Lorenzo, a working class bus driver in the racially charged 1960s, trying to keep his 9-year-old son on the straight and narrow while living in an Italian-American neighborhood with a large Mafia presence.
Academy Award nominee Chazz Palminteri wrote the script for the play and subsequent movie, largely based on his own childhood. Young Calogero (Palminteri’s given name) becomes enamored with the criminal life, leading mobster Sonny to take him under his wing. The 1993 film starred Palminteri as Sonny and Robert DeNiro as Lorenzo.
“Chazz is an amazing man with an amazing life story,” said Blake. “Family is everything to him. I was honored to be trusted with the position of playing his father.”
After starring in “A Bronx Tale, The Musical” both on Broadway and in the U.S. tour, Blake now has the opportunity to direct the show, which premieres at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal beginning on October 29. Now that he is the father of a 10-year-old son, Blake sees the story in a whole new light.
“The character really resonates with me because Lorenzo is a real person, Chazz’s father,” said Blake. “He’s the kind of father I aspire to be.”
The Providence, R.I. native met his wife, Teri DiGianfelice, when they were both cast in “Footloose” on Broadway. Once they became parents, they decided to move to South Carolina so as not to raise their son, Greyson, in the city. But Blake couldn’t resist the offer to take the helm of “A Bronx Tale” at the Axelrod, being drawn to both the story and the music - a mix of rock, Motown and original doo-wop numbers by Tony Award-winner Alan Menken.
“It’s one of my favorite shows that I ever worked on,” he said.
Blake starred on Broadway as Tommy DeVito in “Jersey Boys” and also appeared in “Matilda the Musical,” “Legally Blonde,” “Wicked,” “Hairspray” and “Rent,” among many others. He had quite a bit of experience leading up to that point, knowing from a very young age that he wanted to be an actor. When he was 4-years-old, he used to tell his parents, “I want to go to Yu Nork and make mackershals.”
“My attention-loving personality rang out,” he said.
His first role was at the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut. From there, he began to audition in New York City, where his parents or grandparents would take him by train after school, sometimes as many as three times a week. It wasn’t long before he was working in TV, film and commercials. Blake earned his Actor’s Equity card at age 8 and just a year later, premiered on Broadway alongside Len Cariou in a production of “Teddy and Alice.” At age 14, he had the distinction of being the youngest actor to have his name over the title of a Broadway musical in 1989’s “The Prince of Central Park.”
During his high school years, Blake attended the Professional Children’s School in New York City and considered studying theater in college, but he was offered so many roles, it made more sense for him to continue working.
“It was such an education working with the most amazing people in the industry,” he said. “I consider every day of my career a form of education.”
Blake is thrilled with the talent in the Axelrod’s upcoming production, which includes Mike Ferlita (Rent, 20th anniversary tour) as Calogero, Hudson Koonce as young Calogero and Michael Keller (Blue Bloods, The Blacklist) as Sonny, the neighborhood don.
“Hudson is a little kid with so much charisma,” said Blake. “He’s so cool. I imagine Chazz was probably a cool kid too.”
“A Bronx Tale, The Musical” runs from October 29 through November 14. Tickets start at $32 and can be purchased by calling (732) 531-9106 or visiting www.axelrodartscenter.com.