Director Tony Annicone Reflects on His Life in Local Theater

13076733_1160940377264043_4561213501241811304_nWhether you are a theater-lover or a theater-maker, odds are ridiculously high that you have been witness to — or directly involved with — one of Tony Annicone’s many contributions to Rhode Island theater. Over the past 40-odd years, Tony has worked continually as an actor and director for many venues throughout the state, winning numerous awards along the way.

When he is not directing, he is out seeing local productions and sharing his own brand of detailed, distinctive and savvy theater reviews for New England’s The Theater Mirror and his own “Tony’s Corner” on Facebook.

In true theatrical style, Annicone is starting his fourth decade of directing by helming David Mamet’s two-hander A Life in the Theatre for Arctic Playhouse, opening this week and running until Feb 17. The 1977 drama centers on the relationship between two actors — one, a young rising star and the other, a more seasoned actor anxiously beginning to see his career wane as he grows older.

Annicone credits his own long and fruitful career in the theater to his mother, Anna. She was the one who brought him to see his first professional production, The Sound of Music, at Theatre by the Sea in 1972. “She was my biggest supporter and fan throughout my life,” he says, “right up until her passing in March.”

His thoughts of theater as a profession might have been sparked with that memorable production, but his performance history started long before that with his first stage role at the tender age of four. “I appeared in a Christmas show at Bell Street, playing a shepherd,” he explains, adding, “…the next year I was promoted to St. Joseph.”

Annicone attended Assumption College in Worcester where he minored in English. The lack of a formal theater program at Assumption didn’t stop him from finding opportunities to direct at the college, and soon he sought out productions at other community theater venues closer to home.

“I have been acting and directing in Rhode Island for 41 years now,” reflected Annicone. “I started with the Warwick Players back in 1978. Over the years I have worked with Academy Players, The Barker Playhouse, The Community Players, Mill River Dinner Theatre and of course, Newport Playhouse.”

To many, Annicone is best known for is his comedic work as a director and actor at The Newport Playhouse and Cabaret Restaurant, spending the past 35 years entertaining literally thousands of patrons every season. His first paid professional directing position was at The Newport Playhouse in 1985. The show was They’re Playing Our Song, starring Susan Moniz (currently performing in the national tour of Phantom of the Opera, coming to PPAC in March 2019). Annicone credits Playhouse founder Matt Siravo, who passed away in 2015, and current owner, Jonathan Perry, for their unwavering belief in him for all those many years.

“Tony has been involved in so many shows at The Playhouse since we opened in 1983,” said Perry. “His life has truly revolved around the theater since I’ve known him. I’m sure he can tell you exactly how many we have done and probably all the names of the cast… we often refer to Tony as the archivist of the Playhouse.”

Any discussion of Annicone’s past acting roles quickly proves that he is not just the caretaker of Playhouse lore, but much of the state’s theater history as well. He lists among his favorite roles that of Pablo in For Whom the Bell Tolls alongside actress Viola Davis with the National American Defense Theater, performing in Evita with actress and singer Liz Callaway and multiple roles in The Time of the Hand and Eye with Bob Colonna at Providence College.

For his latest production, Arctic Playhouse’s staging of A Life in the Theatre, Annicone has cast W. Richard Johnson as the older actor, and Alvaro Beltran as the up-and-coming younger actor, John. Johnson and Annicone have worked together many times before, most recently at Arctic Playhouse as Barney in Last of the Red Hot Lovers as well as in Newport Playhouse’s Lunch with Mrs. Baskin, Dashing Through the Snow and A Doublewide, Texas Christmas. Alvaro was someone whom Annicone had seen perform, but had yet to work with: “He auditioned for me for Butterflies are Free and did such an impressive audition I knew I wanted to work with him in the future.”

When asked about the ways that directing this play differs in comparison to the lighter, more comedic shows, Annicone said, “I think in directing a drama you have the immediate emotions of pathos that you know the audience will understand and empathize with … while with a comedy you have to wait for the audience’s reaction.”

Annicone is not slowing down at all with his schedule as he heads into 2019. When asked if he had any bucket list acting roles, he mentioned that he is playing Frankie Salvucci in Breaking Legs, up next at Arctic Playhouse. “I look forward to acting with or directing many talented performers and directors in Rhode Island or elsewhere! I think any good role in the future would be (on) my bucket list.”

A Life in the Theatre by David Mamet, directed by Tony Annicone, starring Richard Johnson and Alvaro Beltran runs Jan 31 – Feb 17 at The Arctic Playhouse, 117 Washington St, West Warwick.

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