Tom Santopietro’s career is as colorful as a rainbow, with the appropriate pots of gold at both ends. He could have been a tennis pro or a lawyer and chose instead to take the yellow brick road directly to theater and films, his first loves.
Leaving his hometown of Waterbury, Connecticut, after graduating from the University of Connecticut School of Law, he decided to try his hand working on Broadway shows as a stage and company manager. He handled the business side of show biz full-time for fifteen years when the creative urge to write struck him.
Switching gears slightly, he decided to become a “professional substitute” stage manager, an understudy so to speak, to allow himself time to pursue writing. “Filling in a job temporarily is tricky, like jumping on board a moving train that has already left the station. You figure things out as you go along. It’s not a 9-5 job. I love going from show to show and with a little training, it will all work out.”
Having been involved with more than thirty Broadway shows, from “Jersey Boys” and “Noises Off” to “The Iceman Cometh,” he was immersed in the stories and lives of stars. While working behind the scenes, “I needed to do something more creative. I didn’t tell one person, because if I didn’t finish the book I would have felt really awful. When it was done, I showed it to my closest friend of forty years who said, incredulously, ‘this is really good.’ I was in the right place at the right time. A friend in a publishing house, Thomas Dunne, offered to read it and, even though he wasn’t a Barbra Streisand fan, he bought the book.” Santopietro’s first book was “The Importance of Being Barbra” in 2006.
Now the author of four books, Santopietro claims “they all have a common thread. All the book subjects are interesting performers, singing actors who appeal for their voices and their films. They are outsized talents and personalities and those two layers intrigue me. At their peaks, they are the biggest movie stars and recording stars and are emblematic of America.”
After Barbra Streisand, Santopietro focused his attention on Doris Day in his book “Considering Doris Day.” Ms. Day is a recluse who is rarely seen in public. He was thrilled, therefore, when a year after the book was published, Doris Day called him. Speaking on the phone for an hour, she expressed how happy she was with the publication and the fact that he took her seriously as an artist. Santopietro claims she was “warm, funny, smart and I fell in love with her all over again. Her review is the only one I need.” He also created a musical show on Day with Billy Stritch singing her songs.
In his books, he talks about the stars’ personal lives, focusing on their films, songs and works. Each has three to four decades of achievements. “They have lasting power. They are the real thing. They are all unbelievably gifted.”
The third personality he concentrated on was “ole blue eyes” himself, Frank Sinatra, and produced the 2008 release by St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books, “Sinatra in Hollywood.” Adding a new dimension to the work, Santopietro has toured the country with recording artist and pianist Tony DeSare doing a tribute to Frank, “The Best Is Yet to Come.” Ironically he had encountered DeSare more than a decade earlier when he attended a tribute show, “Our Sinatra,” and DeSare was the singer/pianist understudy that night. Santopietro was impressed that “this kid straight out of college could be so good. I tracked him down ten years later when I wanted to create my own Sinatra show. Now we are great pals.”
The weekend of February 4 and 5, Santopietro and DeSare will present the world premiere of their latest venture: “That’s Life! Stories and Songs of Tony Bennett, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra” at Waterbury’s Seven Angels Theatre, the same venue where his tribute to Frank debuted.
This newest show is an outgrowth from Santopietro’s latest release, launching this month, “The Godfather Effect: Changing Hollywood, America and Me.” In the book, he uses “The Godfather” movies which he considers, especially Part 2, some of the greatest films ever made as a springboard to examine “films I love and what it means to be Italian. A perfect outgrowth of that is to look at the three Italian singers Bennett, Martin and Sinatra.”
When he saw the second installment of the movie that covers five decades and flashes back and forth from the early twentieth century when a young Vito comes to America and sees the Statue of Liberty for the first time to Vito’s son and Mafia chief Michael Corleone, he envisioned his own grandfather coming alone to America, at the age of 13, with only 20 lira in his pocket. Santopietro, who grew up half-Italian, lived in an Anglo world, a WASPy world, essentially in two different worlds and he reflects on that in this book.
In his newest show, Santopietro will be the narrator telling stories and anecdotes about these three iconic stars and DeSare will then croon their favorite tunes, sixteen in all, from Dean’s “That’s Amore” to Tony’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” to Frank’s “Fly Me to the Moon.”
For tickets ($27.50), call Seven Angels Theatre, Plank Road, Hamilton Park Pavilion, Waterbury at 203-757-4676 or online at www.sevenangelstheatre.org. Performances are Saturday, February 4, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, February 5 at 2 p.m.
Let Tom Santopietro share his stories, his passion and his love for this trio of Hollywood legends as Tony DeSare makes their favorite music come alive.