As A Journalist, Frank DiLella Has Interviewed Nearly Everyone. Now He's Getting His Close-Up. (With Meryl Streep.)

Jeryl Brunner

When it comes to Broadway openings and the Tony Awards, shows may change. Performers may change. But there is one constant.

Frank DiLella.

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Frank DiLella and Meryl Streep in a scene from The Prom (Courtesy Netflix)

This Emmy Award winning journalist and host of “On Stage” for Spectrum News NY1 has been covering all things Broadway since he started at NY1 in 2004. DiLella has interviewed everyone from James Earl Jones to Lady Gaga to Lin-Manuel Miranda to Andrew Lloyd Webber and on and on and on.

A Philadelphia native, DiLella moved to New York City in 2002. He attended Fordham University’s theater program hoping to become an actor. He had been mad for theater from the time he was a small boy. DiLella vividly recalls when his mother took him to see the national tour of “Cats” at The Forrest Theater in Philadelphia when he was six-years-old. “I did not want to leave the theater,” shares DiLella. “The show ended and I told my mother that we were not leaving. She of course bought me the cast album, t-shirt and poster. But yes, we had to leave.”

However, while at Fordham he quickly discovered he was basically treading water in an ocean filled with very talented acting majors. “I was in the same class with Taylor Schilling from “Orange is the New Black” he says. “If I was going to survive in the city, I would need a plan B.”

He quickly switched his major to journalism and had a professor who encouraged him to get an internship at NY1. He got the gig. On his first day he was sent to “The Culture Project,” a theater company known for its socially conscious works, to do interviews on a show that was playing there. “I knew then and there that I had found my dream job,” he explains.

After that, when the NY1 reporter with the theater beat called in sick, DiLella’s boss let him sub in. “I remember doing a sit-down interview with Liza Minnelli in her dressing room at The Gershwin Theatre for a benefit for Hurricane Katrina. Liza had me go to her apartment the next day to drop off the interview on a VHS tape,” recalls DiLella. “I was sold on this gig!” Ever since he has never looked back.

Now a respected journalist, his 2018 special on the Broadway musical “Come From Away” won DiLella an Emmy Award for best News Magazine Program. He has also received three New York Press Club Awards including ones for his specials on “Angels in America” and “Network.”

DiLella has also had a fair share of pinch me experiences. The late Broadway grande dame Elaine Stritch would call him just to chat about “show biz.” Once, even though she was ailing, the unstoppable Stritch conducted the interview from her bed. “She spoke about her relationships with JFK, Judy Garland, Ethel Merman,” says DiLella. “It was incredible.”

Then there was the time Angela Lansbury invited DiLella and his crew to do an interview at her house in California. After a good hour, Lansbury insisted they all have tea together. “My photographer is a very polite Brit who kindly said  ‘no thank you, we don’t want to keep you,' to which I said, ‘sorry, he doesn’t know what he’s saying. Yes, we’ll stay and have tea with you,’” adds DiLella. “Long story short, Mrs. Potts made us tea that day.”

Most recently art imitates life as DiLella is playing himself as a theater reporter in the Netflix film “The Prom,” directed by Ryan Murphy, starring Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, and Kerry Washington. And he acts opposite Streep. (DiLella also played one of the theater reporters when the show was on Broadway and he performed opposite Tony winner Beth Leavel.)

He remains in awe that he is part of a project that not only has a stellar cast, but offers such a strong message of equality and hope. “What I love most about “The Prom” is the message. The musical has incredible heart and promotes acceptance, love, and inclusivity,” says DiLella. “And I know there will be young people watching this film all over the world realizing, you know what: It is okay to be gay. It’s okay to be me. I will find my chosen family. And I will be loved.”

DiLella shared more.

Jeryl Brunner: How did you go from intern to getting a job at NY1?  

Frank DiLella: I started interning at NY1 for “On Stage” in 2004. At the end of each internship period my boss asked me back and I did 3 internships in a row. In 2005, when I was a senior at Fordham University, NY1 offered me a job as a freelance news assistant. Shortly thereafter, I was promoted to researcher and then overnight assignment editor. I basically worked every job in the newsroom while moonlighting with On “Stage” at night as a camera person. In the fall of 2007 when the Stagehands Strike happened on Broadway, I was the first to break the news that the strike was on after I got tipped off by a friend who was in “A Chorus Line” at the time. The news director then put me on the story as a producer. 

I worked with my colleague Stephanie Simon and we followed the story day in and day out,  even sleeping in news trucks from time to time so not to miss the action. After about three weeks, we broke the news that the strike was officially over and Broadway was back up and running. And then I got promoted full-time to producer of On Stage. A couple years went by and they started putting me on air and I was promoted as host of On Stage in 2017.

Jeryl Brunner: What was it like when you first played the theater reporter for “The Prom” on Broadway?

Frank DiLella: I was so honored when the producers of “The Prom” invited me to play myself on stage for one night only. I loved the Broadway show and I adore all the members from that entire principal cast. I’m not going to lie. I was nervous. But God Bless Beth Leavel. She held my hand during the entire overture and made me do deep breaths before the curtain went up and then the cue of my first line.

Jeryl Brunner: Can you bring me to the moment when you were cast as the reporter in “The Prom,” the Netflix movie? 

Frank DiLella: I had dinner with [the film’s director] Ryan Murphy the spring before we shot the opening scene for “The Prom.” I had just done the cameo in the Broadway show playing myself. Ryan told me at dinner that he was going to put me in the movie. I laughed and said  “yeah right.” But sure enough in September of last year my manager, Pam, got a note from Ryan’s casting director saying, “Tell Frank to hold October, November and December for “The Prom.””

Jeryl Brunner: What went through your mind? 

Frank DiLella: I was stoked. Honestly, I had no words. And knowing that it was going to be with Meryl Streep, I was beyond excited.

We shot the scene in downtown Los Angeles. Ryan and his team recreated Broadway on an empty lot.  It was spectacular.  I normally don’t get nervous doing interviews, but all eyes were on me for this one, with the goddess Meryl Streep as my scene partner. I drilled those lines about a thousand times prior before stepping foot on set.

Jeryl Brunner:  What might surprise people about what you do? 

Frank DiLella: It’s hard-work. Yes it looks glamorous on TV or on social media, but it is non-stop. I’m always on the go and juggling 100 things at once. I always say, “my one complaint, is that there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done.”  

Jeryl Brunner: You have these wonderful theater specials where you do a deep dive into productions, like “Angels In America.” Do you usually come up with the ideas?

Frank DiLella: I have to give full credit to the incredible group I get to work with at NY1.  I may be the face of our projects, but we are 100% a team and I would NOT be able to do it without them.

Jeryl Brunner: What was the first Broadway show you ever saw? 

Frank DiLella: “The Phantom of the Opera.” I was seven and my Mom took me to New York City from Philadelphia on the train. I knew I had found my home the moment we hit 44th Street and I saw all the theater marquees.

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New York based journalist who has written for Forbes, Parade, InStyle, National Geographic Traveler, Travel + Leisure, and The Wall Street Journal. Author of the book "My City, My New York, Famous New Yorkers Share Their Favorite Places" and podcaster, ("When Lightning Strikes"). I cover the arts, theater, entertainment, food, travel and people who are motivated by their joy and passion.

New York City, NY
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