Hoboken New Jersey, 1956: A funny, frantic and frenzied fairy tale about what we do for love. Sweet, shy deli clerk Vinnie switches lives with Rocco, the town stud, to win the heart of the woman he loves. A farce about dames, games, foods, feuds, molls, dolls, thugs, lugs, switches, snitches, glitches and mistaken identities… and how a simple sandwich guy becomes a hero.
Hoboken, 1956: (“One Upon A Time In New Jersey”) Vinnie LoBianco works in his mother’s delicatessen, and is secretly in love with Angie, the woman who works by his side. But Angie only has eyes for the handsome, reckless Rocco — the town stud. As the lovesick Angie blathers on and on, Vinnie wonders what it would take to win the heart of “A Girl Like Her”. At the bowling alley, Angie tells Rocco about the romantic evening she has planned for them “A Quiet Little Dinner”. Meanwhile, across town, Celeste Castiglione is planning “A Quiet Little Dinner” of her own for her husband Billy, the town thug. But when he has to work late, she decides to teach him a lesson and invites the one man she’s sure won’t resist her charms: Rocco, who stands Angie up.
The next day, Angie bemoans her fate (“Someone I Hate”) and Vinnie confronts Rocco with an ultimatum: either marry Angie or leave her alone. But Rocco and his pals laugh him off. Vinnie leaves as Rocco primps for a big date. His friends are shocked to hear it’s with Celeste. He’s messing around with the wife of Billy Castiglione? The guy who, in high school, was voted “Most Like to Assault With a Deadly Weapon”? Just then, Celeste bursts in with some horrific news: Billy overheard them on the phone. And he’s vowed to break Rocco’s legs. They all think Rocco’s a goner (“Kiss Your Ass Goodbye”) until he gets an idea. Billy may know his name, but that’s all he knows. Suppose he gets someone else to pretend to be him for a week, just till the whole thing blows over. “It’s a great deal,” he tells his doubting friends. “He gets to live the life of Rocco…and I get to live!”
Rocco goes to Vinnie with a proposition: “How’d Ya Like To Be Me?” Vinnie wants no part of it until Rocco discovers the magic word: Angie. “Be me,” he tells Vinnie, “and she could be yours.” In a weak moment, Vinnie accepts. Rocco has his pals call on Vinnie’s mother, dressed as priests, to tell her they’ve taken Vinnie on a spiritual retreat. (“God Knows, Mrs. LoBianco”) As Billy briefs his hitman, Ed Vendetta, Vinnie gets his “makeover” (haircut, leather jacket, boots). Then comes the hard part: teaching Vinnie how to act around women — the walk, the talk, the moves. Rocco’s ready to call it quits (“Rocco” reprise) till Ed Vendetta shows up, asking questions. In a comic turn, Rocco demonstrates his technique over and over again until, finally, Vinnie gets it. He’s become Rocco! (“One Of A Kind”)
Armed with a list of Rocco’s best lines, Vinnie wows the ladies in the bowling alley (“Little Girl, Beware”). But when Angie snubs him in the deli, the real Rocco (now disguised as Louis, a nerdy deli worker) sings a love song to push them into each other’s arms for one magical moment (“Quando Schungilli”) that doesn’t last. At Celeste’s Dance studio, Billy catches her and “Louis” (Rocco) together. Celeste passes him off as a new client (“Quiet Little Dinner Tango”) — and regrets being “Married To A Thug”. Meanwhile, all Rocco’s women notice a change in him. Vinnie is a kinder, gentler Rocco than they’re used to. To their way of thinking, this can only mean one thing: he’s in love, and ready to make a commitment. (“Mama, Mama”)
Convinced she’ll never win the man of “A Good Job”, Celeste talks her out of going. She tells Angie that Billy is about to kill someone to prove his love, but doesn’t tell her who it is. When she realizes Angie is in love with Rocco, she urges her to run to Rocco’s apartment where “there’s a guy who’s crazy about you.” When Angie shows up at his door, Vinnie panics. Desperate for advice, he calls Rocco, who advises him to tell her what’s in his heart. So he does. (“I Always Knew It Was You”) It works. She’s smitten. Thinking Vinnie is Rocco, she’s ready to offer herself to him. It’s the moment Vinnie has always dreamed about, but not like this. Filled with love, he sends her away. But as she leaves, she sees a note from Celeste, thanking Rocco for their quiet little dinner on Tuesday. Tuesday? Angie realizes Rocco is the guy Celeste was talking about.
Heartbroken, she runs out of Rocco’s apartment, runs into Ed and and inadvertently tells him where Rocco lives — as a broken-hearted Vinnie decides to go back to his old life at the deli. (“Sandwiches To Make”) As he leaves, he bumps into Billy and Ed on the street. They follow him — as does the entire cast (“In The Deli”). In a farcical turnaround filled with mistaken identities, death threats and some quick thinking, Vinnie manages to save the day — uncover the truth — reunite Celeste and Billy — impress the women — put Rocco in his place, and win the heart of the woman he loves. (Reprise: “I Always Knew It Was You/A Girl Like Her”). The story ends — but not without a moral, some laughs, and a couple of surprises as we learn what happened to all the characters, “Once Upon A Time In New Jersey”.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN NEW JERSEY Book and Lyrics by SUSAN DILALLO Music by STEPHEN WEINER NOTE: The names of the Composer, Lyricist, and Bookwriter shall be equal in size, type, coloring, boldness, and prominence. No billing shall appear in type larger or more prominent than the billing to the Authors except for the title of the play.
VINNIE LOBIANCO: mid-20’s, somewhere between ordinary and nice-looking. Works in his mother’s delicatessen. Kind, shy, and secretly in love with Angie, the woman who works by his side. Spends a lot of time with books.
ANGIE MOSCATO: sweet and innocent, like Vinnie. The typical 1950’s virginal girl next door — the last person you’d expect to fall for a Bad Boy/Ladies Man like…
ROCCO FABRIZIO: handsome, reckless, the town stud. Very smooth, and totally self-absorbed. Rocco should be drop-dead sexy, drop-dead charming, or some combination of the two. Mid to late 20’s.
MILLIE: a warm loving Italian mother. She cares about two things in her life: her deli… and her Vinnie. Deeply religious. A little overprotective…and slightly dense.
CELESTE CASTIGLIONE: the local dancing teacher. Thirty, flirty and flashy, but with a heart of gold. She has a permanent come-hither look that she just can’t seem to reign in. And her low-cut dresses don’t help.
BILLY CASTIGLIONE: Celeste’s husband. A thug. A dark, looming presence on the stage, and in the town. Age range: 30-40.
BUDDY and TONY: Rocco’s two friends (who double as TAILOR and BARBER). Buddy is somewhat smarter; Tony is somewhat nerdier (and maybe even funny-looking). Both of them realize that without Rocco, no woman would give them a second look.
ED VENDETTA: a hitman. Not the brightest crayon in the box, but his swagger and self-confidence more than make up for it. Age range: 30 and above.
LORETTA, CONCHETTA, and ETTA: three twenty-somethings of various heights, hefts and hair colors who have one thing in common: their devotion to Rocco, and their willingness to put up with whatever he dishes out. These three also double as deli customers, merchants, chorus and townspeople…
THE NARRATOR: the classic storyteller. Can be anywhere from 30 on up.
ENSEMBLE: Three others — or more — if possible (1 woman, two men) who double as customers and townspeople. The more the merrier.
Piano/Vocal (Keyboard 1)
Keyboard 2 (Synth)
Reed 1 (Piccolo, Flute, Tenor Sax)
Reed 2 (Clarinet, Alto Sax)
Violin (with Synth alternative)
Guitar (Acoustic, Mandolin, Banjo)
Bass (Acoustic, Electric)
Drums/Percussion (Tambourine, Cowbell, High Agogo, Low Agogo, Vibraslap, Cabasa, Claves, Triangle, Low Bongo, High Bongo, Bell Tree)