When “A Bronx Tale, the Musical” opens at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal on October 29, Michael Ferlita, from Sayreville, will take on the role of Calogero.
Ferlita, who was part of the “Rent” musical 20th anniversary tour, is a 2012 graduate of Sayreville War Memorial High School. He attributes much of his success to the opportunities he has had in school productions. During her four years of high school, Ferlita had lead roles in “No, No, Nanette”, “Les Misérables”, “Grease” and “Jekyll & Hyde”. He is grateful for the advice of music teacher James Craft, director Dr Michael Piccuirro and choreographer Tara Cook.
“I wouldn’t be anywhere without the three of them,” he said. Craft, who taught music and drama at Sayreville War Memorial High School for almost 30 years, remembers Ferlita well.
“He was very dynamic and energetic and above all, fearless,” he said. “It was always so much fun working with him. He’s going to kill him in that role.
Sayreville War Memorial High School is also special to Ferlita as it was there that he met his girlfriend 12 years ago.
“She’s my biggest cheerleader,” he said.
Axelrod, located in Deal Park in County Monmouth, is a professional regional theater that produces musicals in collaboration with directors, choreographers, designers and Broadway actors. Richard H. Blake, who starred in “A Bronx Tale” on Broadway, directs this production.
“Richard is a class act,” Ferlita said. “He’s everything you could want from a director.”
“A Bronx Tale” tells the story of a racist working-class bus driver in the 1960s, trying to keep his 9-year-old son on the right track while living in an Italian-American neighborhood with a strong mafia presence.
Oscar nominee Chazz Palminteri wrote the script for the next play and film, largely based on his own childhood. Young Calogero (Palminteri’s first name) falls in love with the criminal life, which leads the gangster Sonny to take him under his wing. The 1993 film starred Palminteri as Sonny and Robert DeNiro as Lorenzo.
Ferlita caught the comedy bug at a young age. He has appeared in numerous shows at the Main Street Theater in Sayreville, most notably as Corny Collins in “Hairspray”. In the summer of 2013, he was part of the “Les Misérables” ensemble at Plays in the Park in Edison.
“It was my first experience in a production of this scale,” he said.
After high school, Ferlita studied criminal justice at Rutgers University, but eventually realized that her true calling was on stage. He started taking classes and auditioning in New York City and found a job with Viking Cruises. He spent a year performing variety shows on a ship in the Mediterranean and Baltic seas, visiting more than 40 different countries along the way.
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“It was fascinating to travel and see different parts of the world,” he said.
The experience also saved Ferlita enough money to move to New York to pursue her dream. He performed in Elton John and Tim Rice’s “Aida” at the White Plains Performing Arts Center. He was then cast on “Saturday Night Fever,” which was scheduled to open in Illinois in March 2020 until COVID-19 ceased productions across the country.
“It was a punch in the guts,” he said. “We put so much work into it. “
While they were locked up with the actors, Ferlita enlisted them to star in a short horror film that he shot in the house where they were staying. It’s called “Visitor”, about a mysterious encounter with a visitor on a porch late at night. He is currently working on the music for the film.
“It’s very loosely based on an event that happened to us there,” he said.
Throughout the lockdown, the cast continued to rehearse, and “Saturday Night Fever” finally continued last July.
“It was amazing playing live theater for people again,” he said.
Ferlita is looking forward to her lead role in “A Bronx Tale” in Axelrod.
“It’s a very raw and honest story,” he said. “The music is fantastic. Alan Menken has certainly written his share of amazing sheet music and this is no exception.
The musical’s lyricist Glenn Slater also has ties to central Jersey, having grown up in eastern Brunswick.
The fact that Ferlita is performing so close to her hometown is another bonus. Her parents, Roberta and Peter, can easily attend the performance.
“My parents were and still are insane supportive,” he said. “I am very lucky. I owe them everything.
“A Bronx Tale, The Musical” runs October 29 through November 14 at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center, 100 Grant Ave., Deal. Tickets start at $ 32 and are available by calling 732-531-9106 or visiting axelrodartscenter.com.