Tuesday, April 2, 2013

For Lo Bianco, La Guardia is a Labor of Love

Tony LoBianco as Fiorello LaGuardia. Photos: courtesy John Capo Public Relations
The Lines Between Actor/Character and Past/Present Blur
By Lauren Yarger
When Tony Lo Bianco takes the stage as La Guardia, he’s not just playing a role. He is becoming an incarnation of Fiorello H. La Guardia, beloved three-term mayor of New York.

Lo Bianco first started portraying the political figure who cleaned up corruption in city hall during his terms from 1934 to 1945 when playwright Paul Shyre approached him to portray La Guardia in the early development stages of Hizzoner. Lo Bianco listened to recordings, watched footage and worked on duplicating the mayor's voice, movement, style and spirit (if you don't remember that, you weren't paying attention in history class when you studied Tammany Hall.)

After years of rewrites and out-of-town trials, the show ran on Broadway in 1984 and in Moscow before Shyre’s death. Shyre challenged his friend to continue on with the research, and as he did (revising the play into La Guardia in 2008), Lo Bianco found that the events La Guardia had faced during his time in public service “parallel our world problems today.”
Lo Bianco now has written The Little Flower,  (Fiorello means "little flower" in Italian), a one-man show that has received good reviews in New York and Washington, DC. He gets to play the mayor again, this time with a passionate hope that audiences will learn from history. 

“Í can’t tell where La Guardia ends and Lo Bianco begins any more,” he joked, but he’s serious about anting us to learn from past mistakes, “I strongly believe in this,” he said. 

In a recent performance of The Little Flower presented by MNA Productions, Inc. at New York’s DiCapo Opera Theatre, I noted no fewer than nine issues that La Guardia dealt with that could have been ripped from today’s headlines:

  • Affordable health care
  • Courts deciding issues, rather than popular vote
  • The need for a simplified tax code
  • Rising gasoline prices
  • Greedy corporations
  • Union contracts protecting incompetent teachers
  • Enemies using Democracy against us
  • Size of the military
  • Unemployment and underemployment

"We just don’t learn," Lo Bianco said.

In La Guardia’s day unemployment was seen as a temporary assist (with a maximum of 16 weeks,) Now, “it’s a lifestyle,” he complained, with recipients able to claim for up to at least 26 weeks in most states before extensions. This needs to stop, Lo Bianco said, particularly as people have discovered that it is more lucrative to stay on unemployment, welfare, food stamps and other forms of government assistance than to find a job. And the truth about the situation isn’t getting reported in the news, he said. Elections are won because voters think candidates provide those benefits (or refuse to provide freebies) and common sense isn’t found on the front page, he said. 

Some major news networks (with the exception of FOX, he said) refuse to investigate situations that don’t sync with their politically correct or liberal points of view, he charged. Recent examples he gave included coverage of Black Panther intimidation of voterselection results showing unlikely 100-percent support for one candidate and the lack of investigation into terror attacks on the US Embassay in Benghazi. 

“I don’t know what hope we have if the news (media) doesn’t report,” he said.

He takes his message (and the play) to college campuses and high schools. Groups can use the event as a fundraiser (if you are interested, contact John Capo Public Relations at info@johncapopr.com.) 

The play, written and directed by Lo Bianco, spans the mayor’s 12 years as mayor as well as other public service that included a stint as Republican representative from New York’s 14th Congressional District and his service during World War I. There also are glimpses into his personal life and two marriages. The actor so becomes the character, that at one point during the performance I attended, a woman became so moved by one of La Guardia’s election-stop speeches, that stood up and applauded as he spoke.
Not surprising, given Lo Bianco’s distinguished acting career. He won the Obie for Best Actor for Yanks-3, Detroit 0, Top of the Seventh and was nominated for a Tony Award for his portrayal of Eddie in  the 1983 Broadway production of A View from the Bridge (for which he won the Outer Critics Circle Award). He’s known to movie buffs for roles in “The French Connection” (Sal Boca), “Honeymoon Killers” (Ray Hernandez), “Bloodbrothers," "F.I.S.T.,” "City Heat,” "Nixon,”  "The Juror,“ "Kill the Irishman. He also played Quintillus in the 1977 TV mini-series "Jesus of Nazareth."

Lo Bianco, co-founder of the  Triangle Theater in New York, also is remembered for his role in the groundbreaking 1970s TV series “Police Story” and for his portrayal of Rocky Marciano in the films "Marciano and “Rocky Marciano” – another case of LoBianco’s life connecting with his character. The actor is a former Golden Gloves boxer. 

Becoming La Guardia in The Little Flower has become almost something sacred, for Lo Bianco, however. The actor gets the same “feeling of awe” playing La Guardia as the spiritual experiences he has as a child in church and entering some of the great churches of Europe, he said. 

Clearly the play is a labor of love with serving the public its motivation. Both La Guardia and Lo Bianco agree: “On Judgment Day, it’s not what you did, but what you didn’t do.

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com


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