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Sal Pal’s book headed to the stage

ESPN's Sal Paolantonio (Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images)
ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio
(Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images)

ESPN reporter Sal Paolantonio had a life in political reporting prior to his days in the “toy department” of sports. In that prior reportorial role, Paolantonio wrote a book on larger-than-life former Philadelphia mayor, Frank Rizzo.

Now, that book is being made into a play by Philadelphia’s Theatre Exile.

Paolantonio is currently “in the bunker” preparing for ESPN’s NFL Draft coverage and compares it to “studying for the SATs.”

“This is my 20th NFL draft,” Paolantonio said. “I rely on many sources of information –scouting reports from teams willing to share, interviews with NFL and college coaches, interviews with players and their agents, and the great pros at ESPN Stats and Information. I’m always asking them to provide me with unique statistical analysis, something exotic or different that really flushes out a team need — something that hasn’t been on the air or the Internet before. And they are so good at cooking up special statistical recipes for me.”

In the midst of his Draft cooking, Paolantonio shared some thoughts with Front Row about having his book go from the shelf to the stage.

When did the idea of a play based on your book first come about? What’s the process been like for you?
This idea has been bouncing around for years, but this is the first time a legitimate theater company has purchased the book to bring Rizzo to life on the stage. Right now, we’re in the process of finding the right dramatic direction and approach. But the playwright, Bruce Graham, is legit. And he has a sports connection. His play, Any Given Monday, which has an obvious football connection, played Off-Broadway in New York and did quite well. His dialogue is authentic, characters gritty and he knows how to flip the dramatic action.

What’s this experience been like for you?
This is totally a thrill. A play about Rizzo could really work — more than a movie. Rizzo was the last of the big time big city mayors, and he governed largely due to the power of his size. Think of a cross between Paul Bunyan and Paul Sorvino in Goodfellas. That’s Rizzo.

How will you be involved in the play?
That’s to be determined. I want to be involved as much as they want me involved – as a consultant, as someone who can connect them to the stories in the book, the Rizzo characters who are still alive, to the city’s politics I covered when I was a writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer. But this play must be the artistic vision of Theatre Exile and the playwright. I had my shot with the book. Now, it’s their turn.

You talked about Dennis Farina being perfect for the role of Rizzo. Can you expand upon that? Who are other actors you could see having roles in this as perhaps supporting characters?
Farina, Paul Sorvino, James Gandolfini, Chazz Palmentieri — all of them would be great. Chazz did a great one man show re-enacting the movie A Bronx Tale. Something similar could work with Rizzo.

Do you have a background in theater? Any interest in an on-stage role of some kind?
My involvement begins and ends when I buy a ticket and sit in the audience. My three daughters have all been involved in the theater. In fact, my middle daughter, Kyle, just produced and starred in a show in Steamboat Springs, Colo.

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