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Community , Why NEPA?

Frank Blasi of Broadway Theatre of Northeastern PA – Why NEPA?

“My parents, my mother especially, we always had music in our house, but she liked Broadway musicals. She has all the old LP collections and she used to play that in the house. So, I was always exposed to it.”

In his youth, you were more likely to find Frank Blasi playing in the school band rather than on the theatre stage. Of course, except for that one catechism play where he nervously delivered two lines and abruptly retired. He knew even then, though he loved the theatre, he was more of an offstage kind of player.

But he didn’t start out as a man of the theatre. In fact, growing up in West Scranton, if he wasn’t taking organ or piano lessons, he was playing ball in the street. Show tunes, however, remained a staple in the Blasi household. And, while that acting bug never bit him, he just couldn’t resist the pull of the Great White Way. In his 30s, Frank found himself almost religiously drawn to Broadway. And he hasn’t looked back.

While law school took him to New York City for three years, Scranton called him back with a job opportunity clerking for the PA Superior Court. He built a life in Peckville and a law office in Scranton, but the lure of the lights of Broadway never left him. Soon, he joined the board of the Broadway Theatre League where, for the last five years, he’s served as Executive Director.

While he still practices law to keep his foot in the door, most days you’ll find him in the League’s North Washington St. office. He’s managing ticket accommodations for local enthusiasts and spreading the word about the amazing talent coming to NEPA. And, of course, he’s letting Broadway know that Scranton is a must-stop, theater-lovin’ town on their tour route. We joined Frank for a chat about family, softball, his favorite Broadway show (RENT — let’s just say he’s seen it more than once) and Scranton, he also answered, Why NEPA?

 

How long have you lived in NEPA?

All my life. Except for 3 years in New York City. The rest of the time here. (Laughs) That means 59 years I’ve been here.

What do you love about your town?

Scranton is a secret big city, I always call it, because there’s so many things that are here that you will find in New York or Philadelphia but nobody knows about, for whatever reason. Fine restaurants. Theater. Art. Parks. There’s so much here. I think Scranton has all the makings of a really big city, but in a much more friendly way than a big city normally is.

Peckville is a small town all the way around. But it’s the nicest place in the world to live because you don’t have to worry. Your garbage is always picked up. Your streets are always paved. You have a problem in your backyard, you call the borough and they come and fix it. It’s small town living at its finest.

But this whole area has that. I mean, everybody wants to help each other for the most part, which is great.

What’s your favorite NEPA restaurant?

(Gasp!) Well, I would say Arcaro and Genell – even though their dining room isn’t open right now. Because that’s kind of like, in my opinion, the Cheers of restaurants. When you walk in the door you know every waitress’s name, you know every bartender’s name, you know the owner’s name. He comes out of the kitchen to see you. ‘Do you want this again this time? How about I do this for you?’ I love Arcaro and Genell’s. It’s probably, really, my favorite restaurant. If you tell me pick one place you want to go, it’s Arcaro and Genell’s.

What’s your favorite thing to do in NEPA?

Well, I’m still a big sports fan, so going to the RailRiders game probably is. My parents and I purchased season tickets when they came in 1989. I know I’m aging myself a little (turns to our photographer, because you probably weren’t even born yet. Laughs boisterously). But in 1989 when they came here, we bought season tickets and we’ve had season tickets ever since.

And my parents are big sports fans. There was a time, even when they were in their 70’s and 80’s, that they wouldn’t miss a game.  Now I go very frequently and I love going there because I can literally put in a full day of work, go and get something to eat, go to a baseball game and be home by 10 o’clock.

And you’re seeing really great talent. I mean, a lot of the players obviously that play here are in the Major Leagues now. So that’s my favorite pastime other than going to Broadway shows, which I probably should have said first (laughs). But when I go to Broadway shows here, I’m working. When I’m going to the baseball game, I’m just enjoying myself.

What’s next for you?

Next. Well (laughs). Well, I would like to stay in this position at least another five years. That’s my long-term plan. I know they are going to remodel the theater at some point. Right now, it’s limited a little bit on the size of the show that can come in. A show like The Lion King or The Phantom of the Opera wouldn’t fit in this theater. So, they wouldn’t ever be able to come here.

But my five-year plan is to have the same season of five or six shows but to have a little bit bigger shows. And maybe instead of being here a weekend, maybe be here for a week. I want to build it to the point where it’s a destination for people. Like, ‘what’s coming up in the Broadway series?’ Our subscribers right now do that. There’re people that call me now and say, ‘What’s coming up next year?’ They really want to know. But the people who are not subscribers, the people who are in business or moving here from out of town, which is a lot, I don’t think they know we have it.

That’s my five-year plan. That everyone knows. If they don’t like it, that’s fine. But I want them to know we have it. That’s my goal as far as Broadway Theater is concerned.

And then retiring (laughs).

Where do you see NEPA heading in the future?

I really think that really big things will come to NEPA. I always thought of this area as, I don’t know if confident is the right word, but I don’t think we’re confident enough in what we have here. Because people will go on a vacation to go skiing. We have ski resorts here. They’ll go on a vacation and say they had a beautiful river walk. We have a beautiful river walk here. ‘Oh, I saw a great Broadway show.’ We have that here. It’s just that I don’t think we have the confidence to say, you know, we’re a big thing here. We really have a lot of things right here in our neighborhood.

What you guys are doing with DiscoverNEPA is great. I look at that every month. I’ve lived here, as you know, (grumbles) 57 years, and I look and say, oh, we have that? That’s only in Wilkes-Barre? I don’t think we have the confidence to blow our own horn, let’s put it that way. So, I think it’s kind of like a sleeping giant and I think it’s really, at some point, as more people move into this area, and there’s an awakening of like, look at all we have here, that it’s on the cusp of big time. I think this area just has so much to offer.

I mean, do you ever go for a walk in the autumn or in the spring or in the summer? It’s beautiful. And you would never think that if you’re just sitting in your house twiddling your thumbs and say there’s nothing to do here, which most people do.

I think this area needs a boost or shot of confidence to say, we’re pretty good, and once we get to that point, I think the stars will align to the point where this area could be really big. So that’s what I see for the future.

Why NEPA?

Well, I think that we are on the… you know when they say you get in on the ground floor of a company. I think that’s where we are right now. I think NEPA has its potential in front of it. I really think that it’s a situation where we have an area that’s going to explode in a good way. Here we are building that. Us. You. We’re building that right now. Because the area has so much to offer and when people realize that it’s going to be huge. That’s Why NEPA? for me.

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