The Inquirer Nods to One of Our Future Projects

Mon, 03/25/2013

Exciting news for our Frank Rizzo bio piece. Take a look to hear from Graham, Canuso and Paolantonio. Be sure to join us for North Of the Boulevard, Graham’s world premiere directed by Matt Pfeiffer, running from April 18th to May 19th.

Visit theatreexile.org or call (215) 218-4022 for more information.

SAM WOOD, PHILLY.COM
POSTED: Monday, March 25, 2013, 7:45 AM

Frank Rizzo may soon walk again. And talk again.
Philadelphia’s Theatre Exile inked a deal March 22 to bring the best-selling biography of the larger-than-life mayor to the stage.

“It's still in the very early stages, right now,” said Joe Canuso, artistic director of Theatre Exile. “We need to do a lot of research and development, decide whether it would be a one-man show, or how many actors, what the framework would be.”

That said, Canuso has already invested serious thought and time in the project and has Bruce Graham in mind to adapt Sal Paolantonio’s book, Rizzo: The Last Big Man in Big City America (Camino Books).

Graham is best known to audiences in Philadelphia and New York for Any Given Monday, which won the 2010 Barrymore award for Best New Play. Graham's North of the Boulevard is running through May 19 at Theatre Exile’s home at 13th and Reed Streets in South Philly.

Paolantonio, a former Inquirer politics reporter who now covers the NFL for ESPN, is over the moon to see his book taking on a new life.

“I’m obviously thrilled,” Paolantonio said. “With the right script it could be a magnificent production. There aren't many indigenous dramatic productions about Philadelphia.”

The controversial mayor summed up everything about Philadelphia, Paolantonio said.

“He was street smart, tough, and about saying what you mean and meaning what you say whether politically correct or not,” he said.

Paolantonio’s best-selling biography was first published 20 years ago. And it's still selling.

“I still get royalty checks,” Paolantonio said. “But it’s not about how good the book is, but how great the name Rizzo is. The name will live forever.”

Canuso, Exile’s artistic director, understands what Rizzo means to South Philadelphia and he recognizes there’s a long road ahead before a production gets staged.

“I grew up down here and know what Rizzo meant to them,” Canuso said. “What he was all about and what those time were all about.

“But we don't want to get too excited this early on. We still need to figure out how to take the book — and it's a great book — and turn it into a theatrical piece.”

Asked to imagine who could best portray Rizzo, Paolantonio pauses.

“I would have Dennis Farina, who played on Law & Order and was in Midnight Run with DeNiro and Get Shorty,” Paolantonio said. “Farina's a former Chicago cop, he's about 6-1, he could pull off Rizzo.”

If not Farina, perhaps Danny Aiello, he said. But whoever might be cast, size matters.

“You can’t have a Rizzo unless he’s a big guy. The man wore a size 54 suit. The guy was huge!” Paolantonio said. “That’s part of why he was so successful. He totally eclipsed everything else.”

Contact staff writer Sam Wood at 215-854-2796, @samwoodiii or samwood@phillynews.com. 

And check out this Newsworks interview with Bruce Graham!