Renowned local playwright Bruce Graham is writing a play about former Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo. Tony Auth has imagined a guest list for the premiere. Who would you have there? Tell us about it, and Tony may draw your suggestions.
There are two kinds of people in the world.
People who hear about the plan to stage a play about former Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo and say, “A play? About him? Really?”
And people who respond to the news: “Fantastic. It’s about time. Where can I buy tickets?”
If you’re in the latter group, you will have to wait a bit for opening night.
Renowned local playwright Bruce Graham has taken on the assignment of writing a theater piece about the Bambino, but he’s not sketched out a single scene yet.
But he knows well that people all over town will be watching closely and critically how he handles his source material.
“I live in South Philly, and you can still talk to people who have little statues of Frank in their window, next to the Virgin Mary,” Graham said. (Listen to his interview with WHYY/NewsWorks’ Peter Crimmins above.)
Graham did not grow up with warm feelings about the cop-turned-mayor, who served two terms as a Democrat in the ’70s and ’80s. Rizzo died of a heart attack while running in the Republican mayoral primary in 1991, the year Ed Rendell ended up getting elected.
A law-and-order politician who came across as blunt and larger than life, Rizzo was a divisive mayor, a city landmark of the last four decades — politically and physically. He was a big guy. His barrel-chested figure lives on as a statue stepping off the curb in front of the Municipal Services Building, near LOVE Park.
Graham and the producer of Theatre Exile in South Philadelphia are seeking funding to pay for the playwriting commission. If all goes well, the story of Rizzo could be on stage next year.
Big shoes to fill
When word of the proposed project first came out last week, NewsWorks asked folks what famous actor they thought would make the best Rizzo.
We got lots of response, both serious and whimsical. James Gandolfini, best know as Tony Soprano, got the most votes. Robert DeNiro was second. Other logical candidates getting support were Paul Sorvino, Danny Aiello, John Goodman and Al Pacino.
Some of the other suggestions:
“Leonardo DiCaprio. He plays everyone else it seems.”
“Denzel Washington, for a twist.”
Someone suggested a “fat Kevin Bacon,” prompting NewsWorks reader Danika Smith to note that Bacon is “still the only person on this list who has demonstrated a working knowledge of the Philly accent.”
So true. As any of you who watched “House of Cards,” Netflix’s political miniseries set partly in South Philly, know, Hollywood has no clue about how true Philadelphians speak. Hollywood just uses a generic Brooklyn accent as an all-purpose substitute.
Rosie Felci had the oddest vote: “Betty White.” Sure, Rosie, whatever you say.
Red carpet guest list
Meanwhile, Tony Auth, WHYY/NewsWorks digital artist in residence — a guy who had many encounters/clashes with Rizzo back in Tony’s days at the Philadelphia Inquirer — was inspired by the news of the possible play. He has created the vision you see on this page of what the red carpet Philadelphia premiere might look like.
Surrounding the Bambino in the Auth drawing above are a number of colorful characters from city politics past and present. How many of them can you identify? Let us know in the comments.
Also, who did Tony leave out of the drawing whom you think should be there?
Give us your suggestions for Philly political characters who should be in this picture and how they should be portrayed.
Tony will do a drawing of the best suggestion, and the person who submitted the idea will receive a signed copy of that Auth original.