Feeling Saturday Night Fever-ish

A Bella Vista resident is performing in his 29th show at the Walnut Street Theatre

Photo by Mark Garvin

By Lindsey Nolen

Born into a family of entertainers, Fran Prisco began performing in musical theater at age 10 under the direction of his father, the director of the local community theater. Although he had once dreamt of someday gracing the New York City stage, as his career in the arts progressed, Prisco found no better place to call home than Philly. It’s in the City of Brotherly Love, more specifically the Walnut Street Theatre, where he can be seen in “Saturday Night Fever” through Sunday, July 16.

Although he now lives at 11th and Ellsworth streets, Prisco was raised in Ardsley, and during his sophomore year at La Salle High School while participating in the school’s musical theater program, he realized his passion for the performing arts. Upon graduating high school, he attended Allentown College of Saint Francis de Sales (now DeSales University) in 1990.

“When I was finishing college, I had a teacher who told me, ‘You don’t have to go to New York right away. You can work to build up your regional resume in a smaller city,’” Prisco, 45, said. “I came home from college and began auditioning around Philly.”

In realizing the city’s potential for employment in the performing arts, Prisco decided to move to Philly and began living with his brother at 6th and South streets in 1994. He auditioned day after day until he eventually landed his first theater gig, performing the role of Louis the Baker in the show “Sunday in the Park with George” at the Arden Theatre Company.

“This show was pretty cool because I was only 22,” Prisco said. “For years, I was doing a lot of bartending and waiting tables, while working to build my theater resume. I would go to anywhere from three castings in a day to days with nothing, it just depended on the day.”

It was not until 2007 that Prisco’s career really picked up when he obtained a role on a national tour of the off-Broadway musical, “Forever Plaid.” While on tour, he visited the 48 contiguous U.S. states while embarking on the most challenging experience in his performance career yet.

“The national tour taught me to be patient, concentrate more and to become a better listener because I had to work to bear down on the intricate and difficult harmonies within the musical,” Prisco said. “After I got back from the tour, I started playing more character-type roles, so not the handsome man who sings the love song, but instead the secondary man who sings the funny song.”

He explained that, just as Igor was to Dr. Frankenstein, because he had always been on the shorter side, he found he was better suited for these roles. After gaining popularity as he once again took on the Philly performing arts scene, Prisco has been working steadily at the Walnut Street Theatre for the past decade.

“I have been very fortunate, and the Walnut Street Theatre has been very good to me,” Prisco said. “My first show there, after auditioning for six years, was ‘Singing in the Rain’ back in 2000, and this year ‘Saturday Night Fever’ will be my 29th show here.”

While for many shows, Prisco had to audition for each role, after he told the theater he wished to play the role of Frank Manero in the musical, they called him to extend him the offer. Having already worked with the theater for so many years, as he has performed in shows such as “My Way,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “South Pacific,” “Last of the Red Hot Lovers,” “Sister Act,” “The Music Man” and “Memphis” with the company, he believes they felt confident in his ability to assume the role and portray the lead character’s father, Frank Manero.

“I wanted to play Frank Manero because, the honest answer is because he gets to slap his son upside the head at the dinner table. I first saw that scene, and it really stuck with me because John Travolta has his hair messed up and it cracks me up,” Prisco said. “There’s so much energy coming off the stage during this show that there’s no doubt everyone’s going to love it.”

Knowing how far his work within the performing arts industry in Philly has progressed over the years, Prisco is proud of his work and content with his state of employment. In the years to come, he hopes to continue acting, singing and directing while inspiring others through his work.

To other aspiring Philly-area performers, Prisco advises that if the passion for the art is there, they remain active and consistent in seeking to find work and opportunities. As in the case of his own life, he believes if the love of the work is there, performers should refuse to give up on their dreams.

“You’re going to hear ‘no’ a lot more than ‘yes,’” Prisco said. “Despite a lot of rejection, you just need to stick to it.”

“Saturday Night Fever”

Through July 16 | Tickets: $20-$95
Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut St.
215–574–3550 | walnutstreettheatre.org