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 Brittany Conigatti.
Growing up in Staten Island – New York City's "Forgotten Borough" – the bright lights of Manhattan and big stage of Broadway may only have been 15 minutes away, but they certainly seemed 3,000 miles away. This is A Britt Tale – and it's my story!
That's me, Brittany Conigatti. That's the Longacre Theatre. It was 2016 and doo-wop was back as the sound on the street – 48th Street that is.
I remember my Broadway debut like it was yesterday.
A Bronx Tale is a story that takes you back to the stoops of Belmont Avenue in the 1960s, where a young man named Calogero is caught between the father he loves and the mob boss he'd love to be. But A Bronx Tale tells more than just a story. It tells of respect and loyalty, of love and fear, and above all else: the importance of family.
A Bronx Tale: The New Musical continues in 2018 at the Longacre, which is where me and my crew hang out.
See those guys on the right? That's my crew … and nobody messes with us.
The guy on the left? That's Frankie Coffee Cake. His face looks like a Drake’s Coffee Cake. Next to him? Eddie Mush. He’s a degenerate gambler. And that last guy? JoJo the Whale. He speaks – and eats – for himself.
As for the one in the “Blue Capris?” That's me, The Captain. But that's in name only. This is really Chazz's place.
That’s Calogero Lorenzo Palminteri. Or Chazz, as he's known on East 187th Street and Belmont Avenue.
Remember how I said A Bronx Tale isn't just a story? Well the ensemble characters we play aren't just characters. They're real people from a real neighborhood, with larger than life personalities and even larger shoes to fill.
The story of A Britt Tale began back in 2014. And what a time it was.
I had just auditioned for A Bronx Tale's dance lab … and Sergio Trujillo was like a god to me. My mom, sister and I would often go to Broadway to see Sergio's musicals.
Remember how "Young C" knew Mickey Mantle was the last player to win the Triple Crown? And that he batted .353 with 52 home runs and 130 RBI? Well I knew Sergio made his Broadway debut in Jerome Robbins' Broadway in 1989, and that his choreographic debut with All Shook Up in 2005. Talk about talent!
When I received the call that I had been chosen to participate in the dance lab, it was like the first time Calogero walked in to the Chez Bippy. My castmates and I only cared about one thing, and that was bringing A Bronx Tale – and Chazz's vision – to life. Nobody wanted to go home because you might leave and find out later that you missed something.
Our vision all started with character development. And believe it or not, the only original character development for my ensemble role as “Italian Girl” was that I had a couple of other “Italian Girl” friends from the neighborhood. You see – my crew wasn't much of a crew back then. We had no names and no backstories. We didn't look the same. We didn’t sing the same. And trust me when I tell you as Dance Captain – none of us danced the same. Thinking back … if that dance lab was a craps game and I was the shooter, I rolled the seven out!
But what made that initial dance lab – and later the musical – so special, was the way that our cast was encouraged to be different and to bring our characters to life. If we've learned one thing from Chazz, it's that, "You gotta do what your heart tells you to do."
Each of my castmates and I grew up with very different families, in different neighborhoods, in many different places. We went to different schools, had different training, and have wildly different professional experiences. But as we grew together, we developed our roles together, and become one together. And under Chazz's and Sergio's vision, we became a family.
Over the coming months and year, we took our dance lab from a small studio to the big stage at Paper Mill Playhouse, a regional theater in Millburn, NJ. And a few months after that? We moved from Paper Mill to the Great White Way.
One of the first things that our cast focused on in the early days of A Bronx Tale: The New Musical was bringing our characters to life. To do that, we would often sit with Chazz, listening to him tell stories of what it was really like growing up on Belmont Avenue.
It was through these stories that the “Italian Girl” became “Annette,” one of Chazz’s childhood friends from the old neighborhood. The "real" Annette was barely 5 feet tall, but she had a 10-foot personality. When I first heard the story about how Annette would walk the streets of the Bronx as if she were a supermodel, I knew exactly where to take her character: Annette would be confident, smart and sexy, a spitfire flaunting her flashy blue capris on stage. And Annette would not be scared of setting those neighborhood boys straight. She was the real Italian Girl with an edge … just like me!
In our opening number, you'll notice how Annette makes a connection with everyone on Belmont Avenue. She locks eyes and winks; she waves and smiles. And naturally, she tries to steer clear of those four neighborhood boys who always seem like they're up to no good.
And as for the rest of my ensemble characters – my "crew?" Well let's give you some fun facts about each!
“School Girl” (a character I play during Young C's "I Like It"): The first time wardrobe dressed me in the ensemble costume for the “School Girl,” we knew right away who that character would embody – Viv! Viv is based on my castmate Dominic Nolfi’s (Jersey Boys, Motown) daughter Vivienne. In the show, while Viv's time on stage is brief, it's also very important to the storyline. Viv is the "popular" girl in school and when she acknowledges Young C for the first time, the rest of Belmont Avenue takes notice! And true to life, you can sometimes find the “real” Viv backstage at our shows stealing the cast’s attention.
“Wine Girl:” Did you know that my ensemble character the “Wine Girl” has come to be known as Lucy backstage? Our Tony Award-winning costume designer, William Ivey Long, was inspired to create “Wine Girl” after watching "Lucy's Italian Movie," an episode of "I Love Lucy" in which Lucille Ball does battle against a seasoned Italian grape stomper!
“Bar Girl”: You may not recognize “Bar Girl” after glancing at your Playbill; the character only appears twice at the very end of the show (once during "The Explosion" and once during the "Chez Bippy Party Scene"). “Bar Girl” loves to drink, loves to dance, and loves to have a good time. And notably, she talks with a thick New York accent and high-pitched voice (think Lina Lamont from Singin’ in the Rain). And “Bar Girl’s” name? Inspired by none other than Paul Salvatoriello's (Tony Ten-to-Two) grandmother, Beulah!
If you've seen our show, you know that the choices that you make will shape your life forever.
Looking back on our humble beginnings, the choices that we made helped turn Longacre into the Bronx, and our amazing cast and crew into my extended family. But most importantly, our choice to embrace the past turned our ensemble characters into some of The Great Ones.
But you can ask anybody from my neighborhood and they'll just tell you … this is just another Bronx tale.