Rizzo drama once again commands attention in Philly

“Frank Rizzo: The Last Big Man in Big City America,” a 1993 biography, is the basis of a new play, “Rizzo,” now at Theatre Exile in South Philadelphia.

Mayor-elect Jim Kenney won a landslide victory on Tuesday with 85 percent of the vote, trouncing his nearest opponent by a 70 percent margin.

Unfortunately, only 23 percent of eligible voters showed up, a near-record low turnout. Kenney got just over 201,000 votes.

Compare that to the election of 1971, with a record high turnout of 77 percent. That’s when 394,000 voters cast ballots for former Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo, who beat his opponent Thacher Longstreth by a 6 percent margin.

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“The Last Big Man in Big City America,” as the subtitle of S.A. Paolantonio’s 1993 biography of Rizzo reads, still divides the city he held in his meaty palm.  To some, he was the savior of a city in crisis; to others, he was a bully who ruled like a tyrant.

The book is the basis of a new play, “Rizzo,” produced by Theatre Exile and playing at Christ Church Neighborhood House in Old City. 

We sat down with playwright Bruce Graham, a South Philly native, to talk about the enduring mythology of Rizzo.


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