Meet Ray DeMattis as Frank Manero

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Posted by: Pia Haas on Thursday, October 27, 2016 at 12:00:00 am

Ray Plays the disillusioned Italian-American father in Saturday Night Fever. Read on for a fascinating look into this seasoned actor's rise in show business.

 

 I grew up in Hamden/New Haven, CT. I was the youngest of 3 sons from an Italian family of tailors and spent a lot of time in the tailoring shop.

In 1951, we were the first on our block to own that brand new phenomenon called a television set. I was instantly hooked and loved watching the great vaudevillians. I saw: Milton Berle, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Sid Caesar, Ed Wynn et al. I was lucky to have extraordinary teachers and mentors who saw something in me way before I did.  I was nurtured by the music and drama teachers of my high school. Alice Hahn, a faculty member and one of the first women graduates of The Yale Drama School, mentored me and enabled me to study with Constance Welch, the head of the acting department at Yale. At the Catholic University of America, the head of the drama department, Father Gilbert Hartke, gave me the opportunity to direct all of my class shows, tour the US, performing with The National Players and perform throughout Central America and Mexico for the US State Dept.

When I moved to NY, I was lucky enough to study with Mike Nichols, Austin Pendleton, F. Murray Abraham, Horton Foote, Frances Sternhagen, among others, and work with such extraordinary performers as Zero Mostel, Theodore Bikel, Len Cariou and Jerry Orbach.

I made my Broadway debut in the original Grease which, because it was the only Broadway showcase for young talent, launched a lot of careers, including Richard Gere, Barry Bostwick and Patrick Swayze. I shared a dressing room with a 19-year-old John Travolta. When they were casting the movie Saturday Night Fever, he arranged for me to audition for the role of his priest brother, however, they didn’t think I was “priestly” enough, and I wasn’t.  But John told us wonderful stories about the making of the movie that I treasure to this day. When the first stage version was less than successful on Broadway, it was rewritten by Sean Cercone & David Abbinanti.  They asked me to read for Frank Sr. at the first public presentation of their re-write. Richard Stafford was there and asked me to be in his production at the North Shore Music Theatre and again here at WBT.

This is my first time performing here and I love the way that Victor and the entire stage crew, with hard work, organization, and humor make every performance happen. 

The movie of Saturday Night Fever is, and I think always will be, the definitive representation of the disco era exemplified by the extraordinary Bee Gees score.  It is also a wonderful depiction of Italian-American life in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, at the time.  So, of course, I know the movie well and a lot of actors in it!

I think the success of turning a movie musical into a stage production mostly depends on the ability of the creative team to accommodate the boundless possibilities of the screen to the limitations of the stage.  I toured with Beauty And The Beast, and I think a perfect stage translation. But the most successful adaptation to date has to be Julie Taymor’s Lion King.  Not only is it a paragon of stagecraft and puppetry, it is also an extraordinary celebration of African culture.

The first Broadway musical I saw, when I was a chunky Italian kid, was Fiorello. Seeing that was a revelation.  I realized that there was a part for me in the musical theatre. Years later, I was elated to get to do the role with the New Jersey Choral Society.

I’ve had the good fortune to continue working non-stop for 54 years. I’ve done everything from touring the country performing Shakespeare, to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade (performing for and meeting 4 presidents along the way). I’ve been so blessed to have done all kinds of roles in all kinds of media and venues. My only unfulfilled wish is to play Friar Lawrence in Romeo And Juliet or his equivalent Doc, in West Side Story.

My favorite hobby is photography. I have studied graphic arts my whole life, and I’ve had some success showing and selling my work. Also, I ain’t bad in the kitchen (my Italian mother would have it no other way)!
I love coaching and teaching young actors and passing on some of the hard learned knowledge I’ve acquired in those 54 years.  Also, I was asked and was delighted to be the founding/Artistic Director of the National Theatre Workshop of the Handicapped.

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