It's A Bronx Tale Takeover Week at The Ensemblist. Every day this week, we hear from a cast member about the characters they've created, their take on the actions in the play, as well as some fun "easter eggs" that audience members can look for when they come to see the show. Today, we hear from original cast member Michael Barra.
I am Michael Barra, and I made my Broadway debut with A Bronx Tale playing JoJo the Whale. I was lucky enough to start with the show for its out-of-town try out, so I got to witness and be part of the shaping of a new show for the first time. It was a definite dream come true in many ways. I mean, to get to watch Jerry Zaks craft comedic beats, Alan Menken work on new songs, and Robert De Niro demonstrate a fight in the same room was pretty surreal.
As far as creating the character, we had great source material which started us off on a good foot. Then, having Chazz around was so incredible because we were always getting new details from the man who actually lived this story. He told me JoJo has a great sense of humor and always has everyone laughing, even if he is in court. That really informed my performance. My JoJo always wants everyone to be having a good time, especially himself. It even affected the way I dance my little feature in the opening number.
That dance feature was something that I got to bring to the character that wasn't already on the page. I'm not your average dancer, I'm a very large guy, but I love to dance. When Sergio Trujillo, our awesome choreographer, saw that, he decided to use it. It started as just a little twist upstage, but through my excitement and eagerness, it’s grown to a few moves on the lip of the stage. I even asked Sergio if I could try some steps I saw on “American Bandstand” and he was open to it.
The number one question I get asked about doing the show is, “Is the food you eat on stage real?” The answer is yes. And it's quite a menu. In act one I have a cannoli, a ham sandwich, a slice of pizza, and a bread stick. During act two I digest. It is sometimes tricky to time out the eating with singing, but that's what rehearsals are for, to nail down the “cheweography.” I actually only take a bite or two of each thing, but don’t worry, our green captain Jonathan Brody has the rest so it doesn’t go to waste. A green captain oversees recycling and sustainability in the theater, and he is very committed.
In all honesty, the best part about being in this show is the family it has created. That atmosphere started at the top with Chazz having us over his house for Sunday dinner during rehearsals, and has permeated this entire experience. So come be part of the family and visit the neighborhood at the Longacre Theatre.