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'A Shoemaker's Tale' At Wesleyan

When Steve Scionti saw that there were few roles for Italian-Americans that didn't involve someone named Fat Tony or who had a very special godfather, the dancer-actor turned inward — and to his own family for inspiration.

Scionti, who was born and raised in Middletown, began developing stories inspired by his Connecticut relatives, turning them into a solo show and performing it on stage starting in 1997. A newer version of that original show will bow at the city where it is set when the actor performs it July 26 and July 27 at 8 p.m. at Wesleyan University's CFA Theater in Middletown.

"Hear What's In the Heart: A Shoemaker's Tale" centers on his maternal Sicilian grandfather, Angelo Morello, who was a profound influence on Scionti.

It was his grandfather, who ran Angelo's Shoe Repair Shop on Main Street in Middletown, who gave Scionti the money to take dance lessons and who encouraged him to follow his dream to perform.

"He would say, 'Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel for people who look up,' " says Scionti. He wanted to share his story — and others about his family, friends and teachers in Middletown — to offset how Italian-Americans, and especially Sicilians, are portrayed in Hollywood and TV.

Scionti's parents came to the U.S. from Melilli, Sicily, and raised their three sons in Middletown. "I grew up [in the '60s and '70] in such an incredible community and family." His mother was a seamstress and his father dad owned a constructional welding company in Portland.

"My grandfather lived in a day when you became whatever your father was,' says Scionti, 49. "It was, 'I'm-a shoemaker and you-a shoemaker.' My grandfather wanted to be a conductor. He wanted to be Rossini. But he had his dreams taken away. I saw the sadness in his eyes."

But he saw something special in his grandson.

His grandfather paid for his dance lessons when he was in the eighth grade.

"It was tough and I got in a lot of fights," says Scionti. "Though I was also into baseball and basketball, there was a lot of ignorant name-calling and slurs. Many times I wanted to quit. But my grandfather would tell me that he had his dream taken away from him by others and that God gave me a gift so I should do it. My grandfather changed my life."

Scionti went on the Boston Conservatory of Music and then to New York where he performed on Broadway in 1988's "Legs Diamond," in national tours of "A Chorus Line," "West Side Story" and "Fiddler on the Roof" and in a number of independent films including ``Borough of Kings'' and in Disney's ``Invisible Dad.'' His television credits include HBO's ``Sex and the City''.

But a failed marriage and other "personal issues where I just got lost" during the last 10 years put him off his career path, he says.

He was buoyed when a friend, Tony Award-winning actor Anthony Crivello, contacted him a few years ago and encouraged him to return to the play. Crivello, who also has a Sicilian heritage, directs the show that he helped Scionti re-shape to a more focused presentation.

The new version centers even more on his grandfather but also deals with the family's conflicts with religion and a family member "who went down that stereotypical Sicilian path."

Performing the new show at the New York Fringe Festival in 2009 "gave me the confidence that I was lacking for so many years." Scionti says he hopes the Wesleyan gig will relaunch the show on the touring circuit.

Scionti now lives in Middletown but not at the old family home on 21 Peyton Place Drive in the Westfield section of town. Though Scionti's parents have retired and relocated to Palm Beach,. Fla, he still has many friends and relatives in the area. Scionti is also teaching summer courses at the college. "I'm the happiest I've been in years," he says.

HEAR WHAT'S IN THE HEART: A SHOEMAKER'S TALE plays Wesleyan University's CFA Theater, 283 Washington Terrace, Middletown,. on Thursday and Friday, July 26 and July 27 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $19; $17 seniors; $10 students. Information: 860-685-3355 and http://www.wesleyan.edu/cfa.

Read Frank Rizzo's blog on theater, the arts and entertainment at http://www.courant.com/curtain. Catch him talking about theater every Friday during the 9 o'clock hour on FOX/CT's Morning show. And be the first to know by following Frank on http://www.Twitter.com/ShowRiz

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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