Arts & Leisure

Theater Producer Abbie DeSantis

Like few other producers in the Midwest, Abbie DeSantis can say that she literally grew up in the local theater scene: She’s been closely connected with it since childhood, learning the ropes from her grandfather, Drury Lane Theatre founder Anthony DeSantis. Today, Abbie produces for Drury Lane, working alongside brothers Kyle and Drew. (Cousins Jason and Tom VanLente also serve as producers.) “I love the quote, ‘Chi si volta, e chi si gira, sempre a casa va finire’ (‘No matter where you go or turn, you will always end up at home,’)” says DeSantis, whose ancestors hail from outside of …

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Piccolo Teatro di Milano

It’s been eight years since Italy’s renowned Piccolo Teatro di Milano last visited Chicago, so drama fans will want to take note: the company is returning for the American premiere of “Inner Voices,” taking place June 25-29 at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Courtyard Theater. If Piccolo Teatro’s return has been a long time coming, this production (to be staged in Italian) has been even longer in the making. Presented in conjunction with the Italian Ministry of Cultural Affairs and the Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago, “Inner Voices” dates to 1948. It’s the work of Eduardo De Filippo, one of Italy’s …

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Actress Dina DiCostanzo

Jeff Award nominee Dina DiCostanzo, who stars as Shelly in the musical “Hairspray” at Drury Lane Theatre, has fine-tuned her acting chops enough for some very discriminating critics to take notice, including Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune, who called her “quirky, droll, empathetic and nimble on her feet.” That’s quite a collision of star qualities, but her talents only begin there: DiCostanzo can also sing and dance (making her the proverbial “triple threat” in stage parlance), and has a flair for comedy as well. And if being a “full-blood” Italian counts for anything, DiCostanzo scores points there as well. …

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Clarinetist Rose Sperrazza

It’s a testament to the vision and endurance of Rose Sperrazza that the group she founded six years ago is still going strong. The Chicago Clarinet Ensemble is in residence at Northeastern Illinois University, where Sperrazza works as a tenured music professor. Thus far, the CCE has commissioned eight works for clarinet ensemble; it ranges from 2 to 35-plus members and has appeared everywhere from the University of Iowa to broadcasts on WFMT-FM 98.7 FM. “My mother is completely responsible for my love of music,” says Sperrazza, who lives on Chicago’s Northwest Side. “She played piano and sang quite a …

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Bluesman Fabrizio Rodio

If someone gives you Fabrizio Rodio’s phone number and you feel like giving him a buzz some night, think twice. It’s not that the Rome native is stuck up, or screens his calls. Rather, he’s probably on stage tearing it up at a Chicago blues haunt. “I pretty much play out every night,” he says. (OK, about 24 times a month, but who’s counting?) While it’s a long way from Rome to Chicago, Rodio, 32, has bridged the gap by pouring his Italian flair and passion into the deep well that is Chicago blues. The result: musical magic. Since landing …

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Actresses Ashley Bush and Katie Johnston-Smith

You never know where Italian Americans might lurk in Chicago-area theater, especially if their proud lineage is obscured by a non-Italian last name. But when the subject is love — a matter in which Italians are decidedly fluent– it makes sense that one spunky show has not one, but two Italian-American ladies leading the cast. “Cupid Has A Heart On: A Musical Guide to Relationships” just celebrated its 10th anniversary. And helping to drive the witty, zesty proceedings are Ashley Bush and Katie Johnston-Smith. Both actresses witness proudly to their Italian ancestry, yet also share a cultural coincidence: They grew …

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Dancer Cara Salerno

As the current revival of “Singin’ in the Rain” entertains audiences at the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace, there’s an Italian-American actress lighting up the stage as the seductive Lady in the Green. Cara Salerno, who lives in Chicago’s Uptown/Edgewater neighborhood, claims Calabrese and Abbruzzese roots on her father’s side. (Her mother is of Irish ancestry.) “Growing up with Italian relatives forced me to be outgoing,” Salerno says. “There are so many of us, and if you want to get a word in at the house, especially in the kitchen, you have to make a statement. Everyone is always …

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Web show host James Anthony Zoccoli

Chicago comedian James Anthony Zoccoli is a walking study in cultural contrasts — half Italian and half Polish, born on the South Side and raised on the North Side. He’s also given to bursts of zaniness that inform his latest undertaking, “The Game Show Show … & Stuff!” But he’s a serious student of comedic craft learned from many, many hours of watching TV as a kid. “I was watching Steve Martin and Richard Pryor way too young, and always had a big yen for comedy because of who my parents were,” recalls Zoccoli, 39. “Because things didn’t go well …

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Gorilla Tango Theatre founder Dan Abbate

It’s said the theater is proudly populated by hot dogs, but no one compares to Gorilla Tango Theatre founder Dan Abbate. Aside from running venues in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood and Skokie, he also holds the official Guinness World Record for the largest commercially available hotdog — which weighs 7 pounds and is appropriately named “The Big Hot Dog.” “My family has always been in business; manufacturing in metals to be precise,” says Abbate, who has Sicilian lineage on his father’s side. (His mother is of German-Hungarian ancestry.) “The businesses they ran were in very competitive fields. They had to be …

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Choreographer Mauro Astolfi

While it’s a cliche to say that love is the universal language, that truism has taken root in Chicago along colorful lines. It starts with Italian choreographer Mauro Astolfi showing the experienced dancers of River North Dance Company moves and nuances that they’ve never seen before, in preparation for a world premiere being presented Valentine’s Day weekend. “It’s a different approach to movement, that’s for sure,” says Astolfi, 49, who hails from Rome. “The River North Company is soulful; they have a strong and energetic way of dancing. But I try to tell them that there are different ways to …

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