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 Paul Salvatoriello.
Playing Tony Ten-to-Two in A Bronx Tale is, of course, a dream come true and a bit of an acting challenge. As those who have seen the show know, I am one of a group of colorful mafia/wise guys who animate the mobster side of the show. In Chazz Palminteri’s one-man show of A Bronx Tale, my character’s name was Jimmy Ten-to-Two. In the movie, my character’s name was Jimmy Whispers. Now in the musical, I’m Tony Ten-to-Two. (Why do they call me “Ten-to-Two?” Well, you’ll have to come to the Longacre Theatre to find out.) In thinking about my character, I focus on two simple points of reference – the inside and the outside.
Tony Ten-to-Two: On the inside
While I am introduced as Sonny’s (the head mobster’s) bodyguard, the thing that separates me a little from the other wise guys came from something Jerry Zaks said to me in rehearsal. He noted that I’m Sonny’s second-in-command.
If Sonny needs something, I’m the guy he turns to. When Sonny is on stage, I’m the wise guy standing next to him. When Sonny needs a “problem” taken care of, I’m the one who takes care of it or makes sure the other wise guys know how to take care of it. In fact, a little ‘Easter egg’ you may notice during the show is that when Sonny makes his very first entrance, the first thing he does is walk to over me and whisper something in my ear (something we came up with during rehearsals for the Paper Mill version of the show, which remained in Broadway version). All of that informed how I arrived at the internal life of my character.
I knew that it wouldn’t be appropriate to be a standard, two-dimensional big bodyguard type, all brawn and no brains. Sonny is street smart, sharp, wise and funny, while also being vicious when called for. Given that, I knew that Sonny would not have picked just any old slouch to be his second-in-command.
Sonny would need a guy who is smart, has some sophistication, but has no trouble breaking a guy’s legs or fitting cement shoes if necessary – something we all know mobsters do from time to time. Sonny needs someone who he trusts with his life, trusts with his business, trusts with his confidences, trusts to be completely loyal, and trusts to take care of our family of wise guys. So, that is what I try to portray every time I step on stage as Tony Ten-to-Two.
Tony Ten-to-Two: On the outside
Knowing where my character lands among the wise guys takes care of where my head is for the show. As for my character’s outward mannerisms and behavior, it’s all a family thing. In case you haven’t noticed, my name has about one million vowels in it . . . my background is all Italian, all the way. So, I simply drew from all of the slightly crazy members of my own family to give Tony his mannerisms on stage.
Tony loves to laugh, the louder the better. He likes to look sharp, with lots of gold jewelry, so he can show off his status. He is good natured, but he’s tough. He’s the product of the blue-collar neighborhood, he likes to intimidate, and – as Sonny says – he never wants you to mistake his kindness for weakness. If you get on his bad side, then you are in serious trouble. So, with regard to Tony’s outward character, I just thought about all the real characters who populated the many family weddings, baptism parties, and funerals I attended since I was a kid. From that marvelous palette of personalities, I was able to give Tony the fight hard, drink hard, and laugh hard wise guy you see on stage.
Indeed, the notion of “family” really surrounds this show. The family of wise guys, the family of the Belmont Avenue neighborhood, and all those memories of my own big Italian family. Bringing all of those things to life every night with my Bronx Tale family is truly one of the greatest joys of my life.