Jun 23, 2014
08:17 AMArts & Entertainment
30 Years After 'Broadway Danny Rose' Nick Apollo Forte Is Still Entertaining
“Sorry to hit you out of the blue,” I tell Nick Apollo Forte when I call to talk about his star turn in Broadway Danny Rose 30 years ago this year.
“Out of the blue is the best way to go,” says the Waterbury singing legend. “It’s my life.”
A week later, we are sitting in Forte’s immaculate Waterbury condominium, a baby grand piano in the corner overlooked by a framed Broadway Danny Rose poster. Looking spry in a black pullover shirt and blue jeans, his silver hair meticulously combed back, the singer talks movies, music, family and a lifetime in show business.
“Like Sinatra says, ‘I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king,’” he says, quoting from the song “That’s’ Life.” “But I always supported my family. I know where my home is. I’ve been all over the world. I worked on cruise ships for years.”
Forte, who turned 76 in June, was a longtime local lounge singer—he boasts of getting his musicians union card at 16—when filmmaker Woody Allen plucked him from obscurity to appear in 1984’s Broadway Danny Rose.
At the time, Forte produced his own recordings and distributed them to New York City record stores. A member of Allen’s staff bought one and called him. Forte figured it was a prank until he arrived at a Manhattan hotel and Allen walked in the room.
“He looks at me from my nose to my toes and he goes, ‘Uh huh,’” Forte recalls. “He says to me, ‘Would you do a movie with me in September?’ I says, ‘Yea. But I got to tell you the truth. I never seen any of your movies.’”
Forte not only co-starred as the washed-up, philandering singer Nick Canova, whose career Allen’s character tries to revive, he also provided two songs for the film: “Agita,” a comic ditty about indigestion; and “La Bambina,” a sentential tune he wrote for one of his daughters.
Critics loved Forte’s performance—the New York Times hailed him as “an absolute natural”—and the big time appeared imminent. He went on Johnny Carson and headlined at the Sands in Atlantic City with a 22-piece orchestra—he still sells CDs of the performance.
Not bad for a onetime shoe salesman who only a few years earlier was playing the Serendipity Lounge at the Howard Johnson’s in Greenfield, Mass.
But then Forte’s career stalled. Scripts were either not right or lacked financing. Movie parts kept felling through. A cameo in Danny DeVito’s Other People’s Money didn’t make the final cut.
“Disappointed, yes,” Forte says of his aborted film career. “Disappointed that a good movie didn’t come by for me. But you’re never too old because somebody out there has got to have a script that’s going to have the right ingredients.”
Forte returned to his first and greatest love—playing the piano, singing and doing comedy. Post-Danny Rose, he’s performed everywhere from Foxwoods to China. Entirely self-taught, Forte jumps behind the piano and reels off a rollicking rendition of Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head.”
“I’m happiest when I perform,” he says. “There’s no venue that is too large, no venue that is too small for me.”
Forte still does about a dozen gigs a year, many of them private parties. Married to the same woman for more than 55 years, he has seven kids and 22 grandchildren. When not performing, Forte pursues his other passion: fishing.
“Where the fish are, I go,” he says.
The interview done, Forte insists I stay for lunch and makes me a frittata sandwich. It’s delicious.
To book Nick Apollo Forte or purchase one of his CDs, visit nickapolloforte.com.