In the world of organized crime, few outsiders get to look behind the scenes and live to tell the story.
But in the world of make-believe entertainment, it is possible to learn some secrets about the underworld and survive the experience.
One of those rare moments happens Saturday when three cast members of the ultimate TV mob series present a show that makes one wonder what might have happened if Frank Sinatra — who was famously known to pal around with mobsters — ever met the members of TV’s fictional family of gangsters known as “The Sopranos.”
The show is titled, appropriately enough, “Sinatra Meets the Sopranos.”
It stars three cast members of the former HBO series: Michael Imperioli, who played Christopher Moltisanti, the protégé of mob boss Tony Soprano; Steve Schirripa, who portrayed Bobby Baccalà, a foot soldier and later a ranking capo to Soprano; and Vincent Pastore, who played Salvatore “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero, a former Soprano loyalist who turned government informant after he was passed over for a promotion.
“We give you a little peek behind the curtain,” Schirripa, 61, says during a recent phone call.
“Sinatra Meets The Sopranos” will be presented at 9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 10, in The Grand Ballroom at Golden Nugget.
The show is a well-rounded evening of entertainment. Some might even see it as a variety show.
The production opens with a comedian who then gives way to Sinatra tribute artist Michael Martocci, who glides through a set of Sinatra songs backed by a 20-piece orchestra.
But the opening comedy shtick, followed by the Sinatra music, simply lays the groundwork for a frank discussion about “The Sopranos” from the three cast members.
Schirripa, Imperioli and Pastore all gather around a table, where they initially respond to a series of prepared questions about “The Sopranos,” which filmed 86 episodes and ran on HBO from 1999 until 2007.
“(The show) is actually comedically driven. We tell you funny stories and give you a peek behind the scenes,” Schirripa says. “There are some things I don’t even know about the show. Every show I learn something new. And then we take questions and answers from the audience, so if you ever wanted to ask a Soprano (cast member) a question, now’s your chance.”
Schirripa came to acting in a round-about way. A native of Brooklyn, he landed a job in Las Vegas as entertainment director of the old Riviera Hotel, where he booked acts like the Wayans brothers, Ellen DeGeneres and the Beach Boys, and befriended comedians like Drew Carey and Kevin Pollack.
He dipped his toes in the acting waters by accepting cameo roles in his comedian friends’ TV specials. That led to small parts on the big and little screens; his big break came when Martin Scorsese cast him as “man in bar” in “Casino.”
Several years later, Schirripa learned of a new HBO series in development about a New Jersey-based mob boss and the exploits of his sometimes murderous crew.
“I had been dabbling in acting for about seven or eight years and I came to New York for a wedding. I asked an agent who had been helping me out to see if he could get me to read for (‘The Sopranos’),” he explains. “I went in and I auditioned, they called me back, I came back and — well, there you have it. I got the part.”
Schirripa admits he was “very green” in the beginning.
“I mean, I had acted before, but (actor) Dominic Chianese was a huge help to me and a mentor,” he says of the actor who played Corrado “Junior” Soprano, the uncle of mob boss Tony Soprano, played by James Gandolfini.
“It was a great experience, a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one that will probably not come along again. All the stars were lined up, (and) there was great writing and great acting.”
The series ended in 2007 and Schirripa’s acting career had now been established. He was also being acknowledged as an author, too, having created a series of “Goomba” books (“A Goomba’s Guide to Life,” “The Goomba’s Book of Love” and “The Goomba Diet, For Those with an Appetite for Life”). He’s now the author of seven books.
But none of that success mattered to Schirripa on June 19, 2013. Schirripa and some friends had just arrived at Yankee Stadium to catch a game when he got a call from his attorney, who he shared with Gandolfini.
The phone call from his lawyer was devastating. Schirripa learned that while vacationing in Rome with his 13-year-old son, Gandolfini, 51, had dropped dead of a massive heart attack.
“It buckled my knees,” Schirripa recalls. “I had to leave the stadium and on the way home, everyone started calling. It was just a horrible, horrible time. He was the sweetest man. He cared about everyone, the crew members, the actors, just everybody.
Schirripa, meanwhile, is amazed at the staying power of “The Sopranos” in the 12 years since it ceased production. With the show now celebrating its 20th anniversary since the first episode aired, an entirely new generation of fans is watching.
“Years ago, believe it or not, only 11 million people had HBO. Now a lot more people have access to it,” he says. “Kids who are in their 20s now were too young to watch it before. I think there’s a much bigger audience watching ‘The Sopranos’ today than ever before. Now it’s streaming (online). There’s so many different ways to watch it that I think the show is bigger than ever.”