Revisiting the ‘Old Neighborhood’ in Musical Form

When it comes to entertainment, Chazz Palminteri has been around the block a few times.

The actor/writer/director rose to fame with his autobiographical one-man show, A Bronx Tale, in the late 1980s. He later went on to write and star in the film version of the property, playing opposite Robert De Niro. In 2007, Palminteri made his Broadway debut, bringing his solo show to the New York stage. And now, almost a decade later, A Bronx Tale is back in the spotlight — but this time as a Broadway musical. NY1 theater reporter Frank DiLella recently caught up with Palminteri to chat about reuniting with his friends and bringing A Bronx Tale to the stage.

This is a very personal story for you. Let’s go back to the very beginning: What made you want to tell your story?

I decided to come out to L.A. in 1986, and I came out here and got on Hill Street Blues, Matlock, and Dallas and all these shows. I was doing OK — I was getting a lot of guest-star roles — and then you do all the guest-star roles and you start running out of money like everyone else. So I ran out of money and got a job as a doorman ’cause I used to box and bounce in New York, and I was working in L.A. at this very exclusive club, and then this one night, this guy was really rude to me and I was handling the ropes to let people in and I wouldn’t let him in. And he said, “You’re going to be fired in 15 minutes.” So I said, “Yeah, sure.” And then I heard the boss come out and he said, “Swifty,” and it was Swifty Lazar, and it was his party, and I wasn’t letting him into his own party. And sure enough I got fired in 15 minutes.

So I went home — I was really down and running out of money — and I didn’t know if I should go back to NYC. And I thought, If they don’t give me a great part, I will write one myself. So I went to the drugstore, got five pads of yellow paper. … I said, “What am I going to write about?” Then I remembered this killing that I saw when I was a kid, sitting on a stoop. And I remembered the relationship I had with the wise guys. And I said, “Well, I’m going to start with that.” And I wrote a five-minute piece on this killing that I saw and I performed it for my theater workshop. And then each week I would go back and perform another five minutes. During the week I would write 10 more minutes and then after about a year of editing and putting other stuff in, I had a 90-minute one-man show of this whole thing I did about my father, the bus driver, and Sonny, the wise guy, and my relationship with this black girl I was dating. And I put this whole thing into a story and I got money — my friend lent me money to produce it.

The day I produced it, the reviews exploded and I got offered $250,000 in two weeks, but the people who were offering me the money didn’t want me to play the part of Sonny in the movie — they wanted to put a star in the role — and they wanted another person to write the screenplay. And I said, “No. I want to write the screenplay, and I want to play Sonny.” So I went back to doing the play. And the crowds got bigger, and every writer, director, studio head, movie star wanted to make it, but again they wanted to push me out. And then I got offered half a million dollars, but again I said no. And about a month later, the crowds got bigger, we had to move into a bigger theatre, and I got offered $1 million — and I turned it down.

My dad always told me, “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent,” and I never forgot that. And then two weeks later Robert De Niro walked into the theatre and saw the show — came backstage and told me it’s the greatest one-man show he’s ever seen and it’s one of the greatest stories he’s ever heard, and said this would make a great movie, “And I’ll direct it. I’ll play your father, and you should play Sonny, and you should write the screenplay.” And that’s how it happened.

This property has never left you. In fact, you made your Broadway debut when you performed the solo version of A Bronx Tale back in 2007. 

I brought it to Broadway in 2007 because so many people said, “I heard the one-man show was great,” and around 2007 I thought, I’m still young enough to do this. Because it’s a very exhausting show. And I came back and did it again, and it was huge again. I still do it here and there — I do it out of town.

[Music executive] Tommy Mottola always said what a great musical this would be. And finally, five years ago, Tommy said we can’t wait anymore, we’ve got to make this happen. And he got the producers together and he said, “Who do you want to write the music?” And I said, “I think Alan Menken would be great!” We worked really hard on it for about five years and then we put it up at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, where it got great reviews. And now we’re on our way to Broadway.

I understand that aside from the book, you were originally going to write the lyrics too. 

Yes. I was going to write the lyrics with Alan Menken. But then I was doing the book and Alan introduced me to Glenn Slater, who wrote the musical Sister Act,and I thought his lyrics were brilliant. So I said, “Look, forget about me doing the lyrics. You do the lyrics, I will do the book.” And he’s wonderful.

Alan Menken is a master composer. Can you talk about how he captures the sound of the Bronx in the 1960s with his music? 

I don’t want to sound biased, but I think Alan Menken is a complete genius. (Eight Oscars, 11 Grammys, one Tony!) I directed a movie that he wrote the music for, a movie called Noel, and he was just brilliant. And I just had a great time working with him. And I remember seeing his piece Little Shop of Horrors years ago, and it had doo-wop, R&B, blues, swing. And I remember thinking this guy could do anything. And I always thought A Bronx Tale was a fable — and we’ve seen Alan do great fables with animation — so I just thought he would be great. I truly believe this is one of the best scores he’s ever written: He’s captured the swing, Sinatra, Bobby Darin sound; he knows that time period so well. I’ve been with a ton of musicians because I started out as a musician, and there’ve only been two writers that I’ve worked with who could just sit there and write great song after great song — and one is Alan Menken and the other is Billy Joel.

You’re reuniting with Robert De Niro on this project as well as the director of your solo show, Jerry Zaks. Both men are codirecting your musical.  

I’m getting the best of both worlds: Bob directed the movie and Jerry directed me in the one-man show, so each one brings their own kind of uniqueness into it. So it’s really good.

This is a story about family. You’re a father of two. How did your kids respond to the musical when it debuted at the regional Paper Mill Playhouse?

It’s funny: When I first did the show, I didn’t have children. So I really related to the boy- to-the-father. And then when I did it in 2007, I had children — and a son — so I started to relate to the father-to-the-boy and the boy-to-the-father. Both my children are talented and in the entertainment business, and I taught them, just like my father taught me, “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent.” Like my father wrote down on a card and gave it to me and I put it in my room, I wrote it on a card for them and put it in their room. And my wife and I are on top of them — we push them. If they don’t want to be in the business, we don’t push them to be, but they want to be in the business so we say, “OK. As long as you do good in school, you can do all this.” I think it’s important when a child finds his or her passion, you should let them go.

This musical takes place in your old neighborhood. Have you been back? 

Oh, I go back once a month. I go shopping. It’s always great to be back there. I see some of my old friends who are still there. I enjoy it very much.

Actor Nick Cordero will play the role of Sonny on stage — the role you played in the film. Not to mention the two of you have another role in common. …

I was concerned about who was going to play Sonny: He has to be good, he has to be real, he has to be funny. And then I saw Nick Cordero in Bullets Over Broadwayand I was blown away. And I thought, That’s Sonny! And — you’re right, it’s funny — he played [my role] in the Broadway musical Bullets Over Broadway. I played Cheech in the movie. I thought, This guy is me at 37 years old.

What will you be thinking about on opening night?

Wow — I don’t know. … I’m very excited. We’ve worked very hard on this show. I hope the Broadway audiences like it. You know the story; people love the story. A Bronx Tale is a big hit in Europe, Japan, all over the world, and I go, “How can that be?” But people have dreams and aspirations like anyone else. And I think I wrote this thing that’s lightning in a bottle — the father, the son, all the characters — and I was just writing from my heart. And what I wrote seems to connect with other people.

You’re making your musical debut as the bookwriter of A Bronx Tale. Do you have any desire to perform in a musical on Broadway? 

I would love to do a Broadway musical, but I knew in my heart I shouldn’t be in this. Originally they wanted me to be in this but I said no. I did the movie, I wrote the screenplay, I wrote the play, and did the one-man show. I want this to be a new version of A Bronx Tale.

Third Degree With Diane Lane

Diane Lane stars in “The Cherry Orchard” from Sept. 15 at The American Airlines Theater.

She made her Broadway debut at the age of 12 in the ensemble of the Andrei Serban-directed 1977 Lincoln Center Theater production of Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard.” Now, almost 40 years later, Oscar-nominated Diane Lane (“Unfaithful”, “Under the Tuscan Sun”) goes back to her theatrical roots in The Roundabout Theatre Company’s staging of the Chekhov classic, adapted by Stephen Karam, fresh from his Tony win for best new play for “The Humans.” We asked the raven-haired beauty about her return to The Great White Way, her peeves and picks, her secret side and the brawn of Batman. 

It’s a full-circle moment for you, being back on Broadway in The Cherry Orchard
I just got out the clippings from when I did the show in 1977. I’m starting to admit that my life is particularly bizarre at this point, after being around this long.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think back to that production in the 1970s?
The blackout of 1977. We were all onstage together and there was a show-must-go-on mentality. We finished the show with flashlights, stick lighters and candles. There was an announcement from our stage manager: “It’s a multiborough blackout, and it’s kind of scary out there, so maybe you want to stay with us for a little.”

You were so young. 
It was exhilarating. I’ll never forget the blue lights that came on in the hallway, downstairs in the dressing room area. I knew they had them on airplanes—who knew they also have them in theaters?

Do you have a favorite theater role to date?
I don’t. I miss my early years in the theater at La MaMa—doing the trilogy of Greek plays that we did: MedeaElectraThe Trojan Women. I loved touring with those plays. We traveled the world, bringing snakes and birds with us for our shows. It was incredible. We were like a traveling circus!

What are you looking forward to most about being back in the NYC theater community?
If I could have a secret project, it would be selfishly to see all the shows I can, and to go backstage and ask everyone how they’re feeling.

Favorite restaurant in the Theater District?
I like Joe Allen and Cafe Un Deux Trois. They’re friendly, convenient and they’re not pretentious. 

What’s the best experience you’ve had in a Broadway theater as an audience member?
Either at the original Noises Off in the 1980s or Diane Paulus’ 2013 Tony Award-winning revival of Pippin. I like fun, and both are fun.

Which five iconic figures would you invite to a dream dinner party?
Pema Chodron, Elon Musk, Malcolm X, Hillary Clinton, documentarian Josh Fox

Favorite medium—screen or stage?
I love the theater because it’s much more of a team sport. In film, you’re detached from the end result. You have to promote it a year later when you’re no longer attached to the project. I’m grateful for the work wherever it comes, but it’s fun to say that I can do both.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 
Loving what is.

What qualities do you most loathe in others?  
They are always rooted in some wound that art asks me to comprehend. 

What does no one know about Diane Lane? 
I am shy in groups larger than fit in a car.

You play Martha Kent in Batman v. Superman. If there was a duel between Batman and Superman, who would win?
You’re going to go there? I don’t really know. Can I tell you once I’m done being employed by the franchise?

Frank on ‘Little Known Facts’ Podcast

Frank DiLella’s celebrity interviews, along with his in-depth reporting of the theatrical scene for NY1, have helped make him a trusted friend and confidant within the theater and entertainment communities, as well as one of the most popular personalities in entertainment journalism in New York City. 

He joined NY1 in 2004 and now produces and reports for “On Stage,” the news channel’s weekly half-hour theater program. Working the entertainment beat, DiLella has interviewed many legendary artists including Edward Albee, Tom Hanks, Vanessa Redgrave, Bono, August Wilson, Elton John, Liza Minnelli, Patti LuPone, Bette Midler, Hugh Jackman, Tom Stoppard, Carol Channing, James Earl Jones, Chita Rivera, Jane Fonda, Elaine Stritch, Angela Lansbury, Lady Gaga, Tony Kushner, and Andrew Lloyd Webber. 

In the fall of 2009, DiLella and the “On Stage” team were honored by the New York Musical Theater Festival for their weekly coverage of NYC theater. In addition to filing reports on the Broadway and off-Broadway scenes, DiLella has traveled internationally to cover theater in Japan, Hong Kong, England, Scotland, Germany, and Canada. 

In May 2013, Time Warner Cable launched a spin-off of “On Stage” entitled “On Stage Across America.” The monthly program, which is produced and co-hosted by DiLella, shines a spotlight on Broadway theater, national tours, regional theater, and high school plays. 

In addition to his work at NY1, DiLella is a contributing correspondent for Playbill and MANHATTAN Magazine and has given lectures on theater and journalism at Hofstra University and The American Theatre Wing. He has also appeared as a theater correspondent for the BBC, Sirius XM, “The Early Show” on CBS, CTV, The American Theatre Wing, and Al Jazeera TV – as well as in the 2010 documentary, “Pitmen Painters – A Brush with Broadway.” In 2013, he appeared on NBC’s “Smash,” portraying himself. 

DiLella serves on the board of The Gershwin Awards and is a part of the selection committee for the annual Clive Barnes Awards and Foundation. 

He received a B.A in communications/journalism with a minor in theater from Fordham University at Lincoln Center. DiLella has since returned to his alma mater as an adjunct professor teaching theater journalism. 

Little Known Fact: As a child, he and his brother performed musicals in their living room. 

Broadway’s Bloodbath

Actor Benjamin Walker takes on antihero Patrick Bateman in the new musical American Psycho, the stage version of Bret Easton Ellis’ divisive postmodern 1991 novel, with music and lyrics by Duncan Sheik.

When were you first introduced to American Psycho
When I was a freshman in college I started to read the book—all the cool kids were reading it—and it was so overstimulating that I had to put it down. Then when we did the first workshop a few years ago, I finished the book. It holds up, and the violence is part of the vocabulary of Patrick’s mind.

How is your Patrick Bateman different from Christian Bale’s character in the 2000 film? 
This Patrick is funny and a bit more human. In the movie, it works well because he’s remote and caustic—that’s why he’s so scary. But in the musical, I get to turn to the audience and say, ‘Aren’t these people assholes?’ and ‘Don’t you see why I feel the way I do?’ I literally get to check in with the viewer and justify how I behave.

How bloody is Broadway going to get with American Psycho
I can guarantee that people don’t have to worry about being splattered with blood, but Patrick has a very bloody mind. [laughs]

Take us through a day in the life of this “American Psycho” if Patrick Bateman lived in NYC in 2016. 
I feel like there are Batemans walking around today—that’s what’s sickly topical about the show, with Occupy Wall Street and the social and financial disparity between the classes. He goes to Whole Foods and Juice Press, lives in Tribeca, has a membership at Equinox. He wears the newest Nike trainers and Lululemon pants—he’s into hot yoga—and every night he eats at Nobu. Tickets from $69

NYC Sound Machine

Pop diva Gloria Estefan brings her musical, On Your Feet, to Broadway Nov. 5. We chatted with the songstress about her journey from the conga line to the stage.

As an accomplished artist and performer, what does Broadway mean to you? 
I’m a huge fan of Broadway. When I was a teenager, I’d save up my money and see any show that came to Miami. [It helped me understand] what it took for those performers to do what they do for eight shows a week. They were singing, dancing and acting. In order to do Broadway, you have to be a triple threat.

What’s it like watching your life story onstage? 
It’s surreal. I get particularly emotional when I see my dad portrayed in the show because I didn’t have him for a long time—he died when I was 23 and he was 47.

Ana Villafañe is making her Broadway debut playing you. What made you pick her? 
Ana has a deep connection to the story. The first song she sang professionally was my “Reach.” And after we hired her I found out that she went to my high school, Our Lady of Lourdes Academy, and Lourdes girls have a tight bond. She’s also half-Cuban, half-Salvadoran and was raised in Miami.

Broadway is pretty diverse right now between your show, HamiltonAllegianceThe Color Purple… 
Diversity on Broadway is important. America is changing, and we want to engage the audience who maybe wouldn’t think of going to the theater. People will pay for tickets if they realize they’re represented.

Now that your life story is onstage, I think it’s time for you to do a show! Thoughts? 
[Laughs] I get offered that a lot. It’s just that I’m always working! I’m busier than ever with seven restaurants and two hotels. Also, my daughter is about to release her first album—and I have a grandson! But, then again, never say never…

Like a Rock

Sam Rockwell has checked into the Samuel J. Friedman Theater to play Eddie in the Broadway debut of Pulitzer Prize-winner Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love. NY1 Theater Reporter Frank DiLella caught up with Rockwell to discuss his return to The Main Stem.

You and Tony-winner Nina Arianda are reprising your roles in Fool for Love for Broadway after doing the show at The Williamstown Theater Festival in 2014. How does it feel? 
A little terrifying… but I’m excited to play a great role again and to explore the character for a longer period of time. And Nina is incredible—the real deal. She made me cry today in rehearsal doing her monologue.

What are some of the challenges and joys of performing Shepard’s text? 
[He has] great words, like Arthur Miller or Martin McDonagh. Fool for Love is arguably one of his best plays, along with Buried Child and True West.

Were you familiar with the piece? 
I knew the play; I worked on it in acting class years ago. In fact, when I shot The Assassination of Jesse James with Shepard, I told him I’d love to do the play one day. And here we are.

You’ve spent your life in both NYC and California. Do you prefer old New York or new New York?
Scorsese’s New York, when the peep shows were real. Nowadays you can still go to a peep show—but it’s Mickey Mouse.

You made your Broadway debut opposite Christopher Walken and company in Martin McDonagh’s A Behanding in Spokanein 2010. What’s the best thing about being a part of the New York theater community? 
It’s sexy. It’s like being part of a sexy tribe. The camaraderie, the teamwork—nothing beats it.

You just filmed a movie with Anna Kendrick called Mr. Right. In your mind, what makes Mr. Right? 
Always knowing when to admit you’re an asshole

And speaking of Anna Kendrick—aka a Broadway musical theater baby—do you have any desire to perform in a musical?
I’d love to do Guys and Dolls—either part.

Through Dec. 6, tickets from $70, 261 W. 47th St.

Kristin Chenoweth On Gay Marriage, Staying In Touch With Idina Menzel and the Composer Who Would Write Her Life Story

Petite powerhouse soprano Kristin Chenoweth, returning to Broadway in On the Twentieth Century, shares why the role of Hollywood starlet Lily Garland is one she has “always wanted to play” and how she keeps in contact with Wicked co-star Idina Menzel.

After a four-year absence from the Great White Way, Tony and Emmy Award winner Kristin Chenoweth heads back to the Main Stem this month in a revival of the 1978 Comden and Green musical On the Twentieth Century. The actress stars as Hollywood starlet Lily Garland opposite Peter Gallagher‘s Oscar Jaffee. Chenoweth’s return to Broadway not only marks a long-awaited homecoming for the star; she’s also paying homage to one of her idols, the late Madeline Kahn.

Peter Gallagher and Kristin Chenoweth
Peter Gallagher and Kristin Chenoweth Photo by Matt Hoyle

F: Welcome back to Broadway, Kristin! Why come back with On the Twentieth Century?
K:I have always wanted to do this part. When I made my first album, I worked with Betty Comden and Adolph Green and I sang a song that they wrote from a show called Two on the Aisle called “If.” I invited them to come to the recording studio, and they said, “There’s a part we wrote for Madeline Kahn, and you have to do it.” This was in 2000, and I said, “Oh, what is it?” They told me, On the Twentieth Century, and I said I’d never seen it, but my voice teacher told me one day that I would do it. Many years later director Scott Ellis and Todd Haimes [artistic director for the Roundabout Theatre Company] contacted me and said we want to do this for you. We did a reading about three years ago, and I knew this was a show that I needed to do sooner rather than later because the demands of it are for a coloratura. Also I think I may be dancing a lot more in this than Madeline Kahn did in the original.

F: And you’re home.
K: I’m home with my people. It makes me happy. I get really emotional about it. I’ve had some wonderful experiences in films and on television, and we have our own version of a family there. But when you do eight shows a week, [when] you see someone every day for a long time — I can’t describe it, you know?

Chenoweth in <i>Promises, Promises</i>“/><figcaption>Chenoweth in <em>Promises, Promises</em> Photo by Joan Marcus</figcaption></figure></div>

<p><strong>F: You mentioned Madeline Kahn as one of your idols. Not only did she originate the role of Lily Garland in the original Broadway production of <em>On the Twentieth Century</em>, you even named your dog after her?</strong><br><strong>K:</strong> Eleven years ago, right after <a href=Wicked, I got my dog Madeline Kahn. Madeline was an original. I get compared to her a lot and I used to not understand why, because she’s so wacky, yet she had her own sense of humor. Now I actually understand. I’m my own way and style. I think that’s why I create a lot of roles. I know that I’ll be putting my stamp on this part. F: Looking at your musical theatre repertoire, you’ve done Kander and Ebb, Stephen SchwartzLeonard Bernstein, and Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, among others. If you had to pick a composer/lyricist to score the story of your life, who would you pick and why?
K: That’s a good question. I would have to go with Leonard Bernstein, because I think he and I would have been together. He obviously passed away before I ever thought about moving to New York, but I’ve done several of his pieces — including the Mass, Trouble in Tahiti and Candide — [and] there’s a way about him that I feel, “Oh, that’s me.” In fact, when I did Candide, his son came and said, “There was Barbara Cook, and now there’s you.” It’s one of those things where you stop in time and go, “Good.” It doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks. If the Bernstein family is happy, I’m happy, because they knew their dad.

F: You were recently honored in your hometown of Broken Arrow, OK. The folks behind The Broken Arrow Performing Arts Center unveiled the Kristin Chenoweth Theatre in 2012. What was that experience like for you?
K: What do you think I did? I bawled like a baby. I was like, are you sure? Am I old enough? I was 42 at the time I found out; I’m 45 now. And I just couldn’t believe it. I thought, “This theatre is in my hometown where I grew up, with my name on it. OK, Kristin, what are you going to do with it? Now you have a responsibility.” That’s how I look at it, and so here we are.

F: Speaking of which, what are your plans? 
K: We’re starting a summer arts program for kids who wouldn’t normally be able to go to camp at the Chenoweth Theatre. I’ll also be out there in August to do a master class we’re starting this summer. We have a lot of great people on board, including Mary Mitchell Campbell [Broadway music director], Kenny Ortega… and Scott EllisBernadette Peters, and Kelli O’Hara, even though they don’t know it yet. They’re going to come in and teach for the kids. You know, if I don’t do anything else in my life, I did this. This is just the beginning, and I’m so proud of it.

Chenoweth and Idina Menzel in <i>Wicked</i>“/><figcaption>Chenoweth and Idina Menzel in <em>Wicked</em></figcaption></figure></div>

<p><strong>F: You’re part of a very select and special group of Broadway women. Many group you with the likes of <a href=Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPoneIdina MenzelAudra McDonaldSutton Foster — ladies who have a major followings and are successful in all entertainment mediums, not just on Broadway, but television and film, too. What’s your take on that?
K: I guess it’s because I love what I do, and I’m overdriven by it. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have five movies coming out this year, and I still can’t believe it. What’s really been bringing me the most pleasure is the concert work I’ve been doing, because I get to do material that I pick for a purpose and I get to tell my story. I stand in my Christian conservative hometown and talk about gay marriage as a Christian. How I believe in it, what I think of it, and I know not everyone is going to agree with me there, but that’s OK.

F: Have you ever received any backlash for what you believe in?
K: Some people won’t come to the show because they disagree with me and they don’t think that’s right. But the right people come to the show, the ones sitting in those seats. I know there have been a couple people who’ve called and said, “Are you really going to have this theatre named after someone who believes in gay marriage?” And I thought, how sad. I wasn’t mad, I was sad because that’s the antithesis of what Jesus taught.

F: As you come back to Broadway Idina Menzel departs. Both of you created two of the most iconic Broadway roles in recent Broadway history: Glinda and Elphaba in Wicked. What’s your current relationship like with Ms. Menzel?
K: We do keep in touch a little bit here and there. She has an insanely busy life with her baby. I’m happy for the success of “Frozen.” I think she deserves it. One of the things that happened with Wicked is that we both knew we were in something special, and only she and I know what that was. We were in it together, you know? There isn’t a day that goes by when I’m not thankful for that show, and I know she feels the same. F: Finally now that you’re back on Broadway, let’s make it that you’re here to stay for a while. What can you tell me about the rumored Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly! and the new Tammy Faye Bakker musical? I hear you’re up for doing both?
K: Yes, both are parts I want to play. I think Dolly is a part I can play for a while; I want to do it really badly. As for the Tammy Faye Bakker musical, Henry Kriegerhas written the most beautiful score for the life of Tammy Faye. I think playing her part is one of those things in life that I’m born to do. I also love who she was. She was one of the first women who had a man who had HIV/AIDS on her show in the ’80s and said we should only love him. I love her, and I love her still. Gypsy, Dolly, Mame — there are always going to be those roles. But I’m looking to create roles. Why can’t there be Tammy Faye now?

Frank DiLella is the theatre reporter for NY1 News in New York City. Follow him on Twitter at @fdilella

Love in the Age of Intolerance

Geoffrey Nauffts’ Next Fall, an exploration of love and faith in the context of an intolerant world, makes the leap from Off-Broadway to On.

“No one’s the devil, here. We’re all just trying to get along.” This simple statement, signed “Anonymous,” serves as an introduction in the script for Geoffrey Nauffts’ latest work, Next Fall. While it may be something only those onstage and behind the scenes in this new play get to share, this powerful statement seems to be exactly what Nauffts is trying to convey with his work in the theatre and beyond. 

Developed through the not-for-profit Naked Angels Theater Company (Nauffts currently serves as artistic director), Next Fall comes to Broadway this month after a critically successful Off-Broadway run during the summer of 2009. Under the direction of Sheryl Kaller, this provocative drama tells the story of a gay couple, Adam (Patrick Breen) and Luke (Patrick Heusinger), and their struggles with faith and acceptance. The opening of the play takes place in a hospital waiting room, immediately following a serious tragedy involving one of the men. The story continues using flashbacks to show how a group of very different people are all connected. 

Currently moonlighting as one of the writers for ABC’s “Brothers & Sisters,” stage and screen multi-tasker Nauffts says it was his interest in faith and religion that inspired him to write Next Fall.

“Organized religion plays an important part in our world,” he shares. “I never grew up around it and I’ve always been curious about it. In recent years, my world has collided with the world of organized religion to a certain degree and I’ve met people who have faith. It’s been enlightening. So with this play, I took a scenario and went from there.” While the story line of Next Fall is fictitious, Nauffts, who is making his Broadway debut as a playwright, says that he’s giving a fair and balanced face and voice to what’s currently happening in our country regarding the lack of equality for same-sex couples. “The actual plot of the play does sort of put a human face on California’s Proposition 8 [the state constitutional amendment that prevents same-sex couples from marrying there]. If [Prop 8 supporters] can come and see this — if it causes them to humanize the situation a little bit, and there’s more understanding there — that’s a great thing.”

He adds, “There are no easy answers. I don’t want to portray the play in that light. I try to give a voice on all sides of the equation — even the choir that I’m preaching to can ask questions.” 

While Nauffts is providing a voice for both supporters and non-supporters of same-sex couples through the characters depicted in Next Fall, over the last couple of years, the Broadway community has made it very clear that it supports equal rights for all. 

The not-for-profit group Broadway Impact, under the leadership of Hair‘s Gavin Creel, came into existence in late 2008 to help push lawmakers to support legislation that would protect the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community and, primarily, same-sex marriage. 

The multi-Tony-nominated Creel says he was inspired to create the organization after Barack Obama was elected president on the same day Proposition 8 was approved by voters. “Watching President Obama, for the first time in my life one of us was running for president. He seemed like one of us — and I got behind him and I got excited about his message and what he continues to say he’s going to do. The day he was elected president, Prop 8 happened. It was this bizarre dichotomy — world history — good and bad. So, I thought, what can I do? We’re in a really awesome community — the Broadway community is a real tight-knit group of people — and we took the lead on this issue.” 

Creel, along with Broadway’s Cynthia NixonAudra McDonaldSutton FosterChristopher Sieber and Cheyenne Jackson, among others, have been extremely vocal in their stance on equal rights for the LGBT community. 

Aside from holding and participating in rallies encouraging lawmakers to support equal rights for all, Creel says that the folks behind Broadway Impact will continue to fight until equality is won in all 50 states. 

“Our mission for 2010 is ‘Broadway Impact Goes Home.’ The Broadway community knows who we are — now we are starting to call out to community and summer stock theatres. We’re planning on starting chapters across the country. Think about Christian churches all over the country — our churches are theatres.” Even though the current political climate displays a clear divide between supporters and non-supporters of LGBT rights, both Gavin Creel and Geoffrey Nauffts seem to be coming from the same place: Creel more vocal with his organization and Nauffts a little subtler with his play. 

“On a bigger scale, you can compare Next Fall to humanity. Lift the ‘gay’ out of the sentence — it’s about people,” Nauffts says. “We’re so divided in our world, and religion is really behind that division. I would hope that taking a small look at this world and six people in 24 hours — think on a larger scale — there’s truth to learn.”

Frank DiLella is the theatre producer for NY1 News in New York City.