With HBO’s The Sopranos having reached its 20th birthday, and its creator David Chase currently filming its’ prequel with Michael Gandolfini (the late James Gandolfini’s son) playing a young Tony Soprano, no one would argue that the New Jersey-based gangster series is as popular now as it ever was. You’d get whacked for thinking otherwise. And the legend of Jersey’s favorite son (Springsteen comes next), Frank Sinatra in Atlantic City, let alone any casino, never goes out of style. Frank’s the Chairman of the Board. So, to tie together two totems of Italian-American art and artifice in one night’s worth of revelry – Sinatra Meets The Sopranos at the Borgata’s Event Center, February 9 – is genius, especially when you consider that the guy singing the Sinatra songs, Michael Martocci, knows Steven Schirripa (Bobby ‘Bacala’), from their days growing up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.
“We’re from the same neighborhood, me and Martocci,” said Schrippa, who will show up to the stage of The Borgata on Saturday with Michael Imperioli (Christopher Moltisanti) and Vincent Pastore (‘Big Pussy’ Bonpensiero) to tell true tall tales of The Sopranos’ behind-the-scenes action. “We’ve been doing different versions of a ‘conversations with The Sopranos’ show for several years, but, Martocci had a good idea for pairing us together. What we do and what he does. He sings the songs, has all of the original charts, has a 24-piece band with a lot of guys who played with Sinatra. He knows what he’s doing. Teaming up sounded like an interesting twist on what we normally do. “
What the three Sopranos do is a Q&A, a peek behind the curtain as to what went on during the series’ run, a valuable lesson considering that Pastore and Imperioli were there since the beginning (1998), and that the latter started solely as a writer on the series. “There are stories that Imperioli has that even I never heard before,” said Schrippa. “And he’s always coming up with some trivia that’s a revelation.” Like the fact that Steven Van Zandt was very nearly Tony Soprano, and not Gandolfini. “Mike’s got a great story about him and Jim getting drunk before filming and the crew having to tie the two of them to a tree to get the shot.”
Sure, they’ll answer just about anything – including the still-infamous cut-to-black finale, before Martocci comes out and starts his set. “Vinnie might surprise you and sings a Sinatra duet with Mike,” said Schrippa. “Not me, though. You don’t want to hear me sing.”
For Martocci – a VIP travel packager in his day job who did as much for Ol’ Blue Eyes when the singer was touring – he’s been singing Sinatra shows for years, with an annual gig in Red Bank as his highlight. “I’ve got the original charts that Mr. Sinatra entrusted to me. My conductor was once Vincent Falcone, Jr. Sinatra’s conductor. He told me to keep the music alive before he passed.” When Martocci spent several years opening for the late Don Rickles, the comic giant would get in his tuxedo early (“he used to stay in his dressing room with his tux jacket on, but pants off”) just to hear Martocci. “That’s approval.”
Schrippa happened to call Martocci about The Sopranos live Q&A to discuss a VIP/meet-and-greet component, when the latter’s wheels started turning. “Sinatra and Sopranos are the two biggest Italian family names when it comes to entertainment. Why not?” Martocci is thrilled when discussing the video portion of The Sopranos’ part of the show – “it starts with their best, signature scenes, and ends with each of them getting whacked” – before he comes out and wows the crowd with everything from “Fly Me to the Moon” and “Summer Wind” to a boffo finale of “New York, New York” then “My Way.”
Of Sinatra, Martocci says that he would watch the legend from the wings every night they toured together. “You watch so many impersonators, and so many are so bad. I never try to impersonate him. You’d be crazy to think you could. He was iconic, singular, the best.”
Of “The Sopranos,” Schrippa believes the series remain popular because of how its audience relates to Tony. “He was not a good guy – murderer, thief, cheat, philanderer – but you rooted for him. People have similar problems. Maybe not HIS problems, but, they connected to the everyman dilemma that Tony embodied.”