‘Sopranos’ to Lorenzo’s: Big P’s Gangster Squad rocks Staten Island

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Even the casual television watcher would know him by his nickname: Big Pussy.

His real name is Vincent Pastore and he's the veteran actor who played Salvatore "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero on HBO's "The Sopranos."

But he's no one-show-guy.

After singing stints in Woody Allen's "Bullets Over Broadway" and "Chicago" on the Great White Way, the veteran character is looking to flex his musical chops even more.

On Friday, Nov. 20, Pastore's Gangster Squad Band headlines Lorenzo's Cabaretwith some "rousing rock 'n' roll, blues and swingin' Sinatra tunes." (See show details at the bottom of this page.)

We caught up with Pastore before his S.I. show to find out which came first: singing or acting, and why he needs both in his life.

So, this isn't your first time in Staten Island, I take it?

I've spent a lot of time in Staten Island — I was in the Lorne Michaels' produced film "Staten Island Summer" last year (Ed. Note: Pastore played the mobbed-up father of the protagonist's love interest) We had a good time, we shot all summer two years ago and then came back the second summer to reshoot. We were up at the Great Kills Swim Club and then over at Jules Nasso's estate. Years ago, I was in a movie called Two Family House, and we shot underneath the Bayonne bridge. Staten Island is a world of its own. You could live on Staten Island and never have to leave it.

Why was the show at Lorenzo's something you wanted to do?

I'm anxious to do this show at Lorenzo's. The guy who owns the place was an investor in a play I did, "Queen for a Day." He liked it and he asked me to do a show at Lorenzo's. We wanted to play in Staten Island so people here don't have to go into the city. They don't have to travel far to see us. We're coming to them.

What kind of musical influences can we expect to hear from the show?

We're a rock and roll band — Rolling Stones, Van Morrison ... We're an energy band. And my band, the Gangster Squad, we do some oldies but basically our music is from the end of the '60s till the beginning of the '80s, songs like "Brown Sugar," "Road House Blues," "Pride and Joy."

Obviously, we all know you from your work with the 'Sopranos,' but which came first for you: music or acting?

"It's gonna be a fun night. It's a dinner show. So we're going to be kind of like a bar band," Pastore says.

I was a club owner before I became an actor. I ran a rock 'n' roll club and the guys I play with now played with me back then. Then I got into the acting, and when I started doing musical theater, I started to think about doing the music again and got the band back together. We've been playing every weekend. We do a lot of work but this is going to be a first time in Staten Island.

Why was performing music something you wanted to get back into?

Keeps me young. All that singing and dancing, I got my guys, I got a lot of energy. I mean, I get up and I do my walk every day, but when you get on stage — especially Broadway shows — it's good exercise.

Were your fans surprised that you had this hidden talent?

I did "Chicago," but when I did "Bullets Over Broadway," Woody [Allen], he looked at me, said "I didn't know you could sing." I said, "Why not?" We all have our different ranges, but I have a voice and I know what I'm capable of doing. Singing is another means of expression with your craft, and you need to be versatile with this business. If you're just gonna act, you'll work three or four times a year. I do a Sirius XM radio show one day a week and I do my show. It gives the people who saw you on television a chance to see you up close and personal, which helps your fan base. It's a part of what we do as entertainers. A lot of actors are also singers, look at Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.

Would you consider Sinatra and Dean Martin among your influences as a musician?

Dean was a major influence in my life. I'm still friends with his daughter, Dina, and I loved Frank Sinatra. But I grew up with Springsteen, Van Morrison, Joe Cocker, those are the guys whose music I really dug — that's what I really love to play.

A lot of your most famous work has you playing a certain, specific type of character — do you enjoy playing the part of a mafioso or are there other characters you'd like to be better known for?

That's not true. People know me for that, I worked on a play last week as a bartender, I'm working on a play now about a screenwriter who is losing his vision. People know me from doing that stuff, too. But I'm no different from Danny Aiello, Armand Assante  — Al Pacino is famous for the "Godfather," Robert DeNiro for "Goodfellas," but they do other stuff, too. DeNiro was in that movie with Anne Hathaway, "The Intern," but does "The Intern" sell as much tickets as "Goodfellas"?  That's what the public wants to see. But I'm happy and fortunate that I'm able to do what I do.

You're a cancer survivor, which you battled during "Bullets Over Broadway." Do you think it changed you?

It did. I'm gonna tell you something: There is a remarkable group of people in the theater community who were very supportive. When I was diagnosed, I told my doctor, "I gotta do this play! It's Woody Allen!" and my doctor said "I'm gonna get you there." And he did. During rehearsals, I was talking to (choreographer) Susan Stroman and she said "What's the matter?" And I hadn't told her about the cancer, but I told her then. She grabbed my hand, and she told me: "You're not leaving us. You're gonna be with us on opening night, at the Tonys, all the shows." And I didn't miss a show. I did all 189 performances. By opening night, me and Woody were walking down the hall, and I told him I was fighting cancer, and he asked what kind. I said prostate. And he said: "If you're gonna get cancer, get prostate cancer." That's Woody for you.

Yeah that's some dark humor. So what do you want people to know about this show you have coming up on Staten Island?

It's gonna be a fun night. It's a dinner show. So we're going to be kind of like a bar band. I've done some concerts for fundraisers, but this is a dinner show and it's like old school. It's going to be a lot of fun.

— Nov. 20, 7:30 p.m. dinner and 9:30 p.m. showtime Lorenzo's Cabaret in the Hilton Garden Inn, 1100 South Ave., Bloomfield; 718-477-2700, ext. 5;LorenzosDining.com. Admission is $40 plus the cost of dinner per head (premium seating is 55 bucks).