Sad but true rock ‘n’ roll history: Actor playing Dion DiMucci talks about ‘The Wanderer,’ Buddy Holly
"The Wanderer" is playing at the Paper Mill Playhouse through April 24. It's the story of Dion DiMucci and his rise to fame along with the struggles that came along with it.
Those struggles include a drug addiction, which has a character in the play, and redemption, which covers his religious transformation that leads to recording the classic "Abraham, Martin and John" about the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy.
Playing Dion with his blessing is 35-year-old actor Mike Wartella, whose credits include "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "Tuck Everlasting," and "Wicked" on Broadway. And Off-Broadway: "Rent," "The Kid" (The New Group), "Seussical" (TheaterworksUSA), "Oliver Twist" (TFANA).
"It's a pretty rock 'n' roll play we've got going on," says Wartella. 'It's the story of the man himself, Dion DiMucci, famous singer of 'Runaround Sue,' 'I Wonder Why,' and 'The Wanderer," his struggles with addiction and redemption. He's been sober for 50-plus years and we just dig into all that and sing all the hits."
Covered in "The Wanderer" is Dion opening for Buddy Holly and his last tour and what people may not know is that it was Dion who won the coin toss to be on the plane and talked Richie Valens into taking his seat.
"We tell the whole true story. Dion has talked about this multiple times with me," says Wartella. "There's a lot of versions of this story, it's almost become like folklore, but he tells his side the truth, which is that he was gonna be on that plane with all three of them and he ended up not taking the seat because the ticket was too expensive. It was the same exact amount that his parents paid for rent in the Bronx at the time ($36) so he gave up his seat to Richie and the survivor's guilt that comes with that is a killer for sure."
You can see Dion himself tell the story here. He also joined me on my show, you can listen to our conversation On-Demand starting at 1:34:30
Speaking of the Bronx, how does Wartella, a kid from the Berkshires in Massachusetts, acclimate to the lifestyle?
"I come from an Italian background so the Bronx has always been dear to my heart," says Wartella.
Despite Dion's success with the Belmonts, what he really wanted to do is play guitar and that's also covered in the play.
"Well you gotta be yourself, you gotta be authentic to who you are," says Wartella. "Well we can give you all the success in the world you want but you can't say or do or behave in any of the ways that are authentic to you most people are going to have a hard time with that and Dion is no exception."
Dion actually is the exception, an exceptionally great singer, writer, guitarist and human being.
"He's such a great great guy" says Wartella. "He's really about recovery and love and togetherness and all that. You know he still rocks out. You know he's in his 80s but he sounds like he's 22 when he sings, you know it's unbelievable".
How cool is it having Dion playing with you as you're learning the music?
"He's been involved since day one. I remember I came to his apartment five years ago, just so we can hang out and talk and play some guitar and he played some stuff for me and he said, 'you know Mike, when you sing 'Runaround Sue' it goes like this and I'll sing the backups for you.' That alone was one of those great moments"
There are many great moments in "The Wanderer." For tickets click here.
Opinions expressed in the post above are those of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Steve Trevelise only. Follow him on Twitter @realstevetrev.
You can now listen to Steve Trevelise — On Demand! Discover more about New Jersey’s personalities and what makes the Garden State interesting . Download the Steve Trevelise show wherever you get podcasts, on our free app, or listen right now: