Steven Scionti is one sentimental guy, otherwise he wouldn't have devoted so many years of his five decades on this planet paying tribute to his grandfather, Angelo Morello. If you have a long time association with Middletown, Connecticut, you may remember Angelo's Shoe Repair on Main Street, a place where Steve spent many long happy hours learning about life.
Using family vignettes and tales from the mouths of his vocal family members, his father Sebastiano, his mother Rosetta, his brother Antonio, his uncles Amadeo and Manny, the local pizza maker Jerry, his favorite teacher at Xavier High School Brother Connelly and, of course, his grandfather Angelo, Steve takes his audiences on a journey from his childhood to adulthood. All along the way, it was Angelo who inspired him, encouraged him, made him his first pair of dancing shoes and paid for his first lessons in tap.
Angelo Morello came to Middletown in 1955 at the age of forty, from Sicily, where he had to abandon his dream of being a musical conductor and help support his family and start earning a trade from early on. Steve would spend Saturday afternoons with him, dreaming of becoming Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire, and Angelo wanted to guarantee that aspiration became a reality. His philosophy was simple: "You take the good; no matter how bad, everybody has a good. Let's go eat." You may find yourself with a consuming desire for Italian food by play's end.
A simple man who loved to sing opera, by Rossini and Verdi, he was "incredibly proud" of his grandson. When Steve was ribbed for choosing dancing over the baseball and basketball he was so good at playing, Angelo stood by his decision and supported it. His greatest joy was seeing Steve perform twice in college, at the Boston Conservatory Music, Dance and Theater, occasions that called for celebrations with homemade sausage and wine.
This loving tribute to his ancestor, "Hear What's in the Heart- A Shoemaker's Tale" will be playing at Middletown's Oddfellows Playhouse, Thursdays starting tonight to June 20 at 7:30 p.m. For tickets ($20), call the Oddfellows Playhouse, 128 Washington Avenue at 860-347-6143 or online at firstname.lastname@example.org. Matt Pugliese, Executive Director of the Oddfellows has been wonderfully supportive, "a blessing," as have the Chamber of Commerce, merchants on Main Street, and political leaders, in bringing this hometown boy home to tell his story. A special fundraiser to benefit Steve's alma mater Xavier High School is planned for Thursday, May 23.
Steve has been surrounded by "musicality" his whole life. In addition to a grandfather who would conduct Verdi in front of his shoe making machines, his father was a bass player with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, his mother had dreams of becoming a ballerina and his brother Tony played the piano. They have all been there for him "every step of the way."
This homage opens at his grandfather's wake and was a story that almost didn't get told. The original version written by Steve and James Shanta had literally been abandoned until Steve's old acting friend, the "incredibly talented, honored and dear friend," according to Steve, Antony Crivello, came on the scene. Now the show's director, Anthony infused new life into the project. He had been involved early on while it was in the classroom stage of development, knew it was "really great," and offered suggestions and directions over the course of a decade. A random phone call to Steve when he was in South Carolina ready to give up on his dream of performing, launched him to resurrect it and move it forward - to off-Broadway and the New York Fringe Festival.
Since then, the two have "taken the script, torn it apart and put it back together, with a new beginning, middle and end." Now it begins with a dance in his grandfather's shoe shop, his tale is told through his family and friends, and the piece goes full circle, finishing with a dance at the end. The magic of lighting and sound help build the world Steve, as actor and as our tour guide, takes us along on his journey .
A production at the Highlands Playhouse in North Carolina and a workshop in Las Vegas helped to create this new reincarnation, one where the language has been sanitized to be family-friendly and enjoy broader horizons. A visit to The Kate in Old Saybrook and at Wesleyan University have also helped to refocus the piece. With its new summer home at the Oddfellows Playhouse, it also allows the Playhouse to expand its vistas as a home for children's productions and venture into adult and family performances.
Audiences from 9-90 are invited to come to Middletown where the show was "born," to witness the incredible voyage of a native son, Steven Scionti, to learn about connections, love of family and pride in who you are, so at the end of the journey you'll hear a choir of angels singing "Ave Maria" as they escort you to heaven's doors.