When Broadway was preparing to come back from an unprecedented 18-month shutdown due to COVID-19, there was one person the theater community wanted to tell its story: Frank DiLella.

Reopening: The Broadway Revival debuted in early 2022 as part of PBS’ Great Performances series, with DiLella as host and executive producer.

It was another high point in his nearly two-decade career as an entertainment journalist, one that began with an internship at Spectrum News NY1 when he was a Fordham student. Today, he’s best known as the host of On Stage, NY1’s acclaimed weekly theater show. His numerous celebrity interviews and in-depth reporting have endeared him to artists and fans alike, and earned him 11 New York Emmy Awards.

Since 2013, he’s also been sharing his knowledge and experience with students. He teaches a course, Theater Journalism, at the University’s Lincoln Center campus, and has been mentoring a new generation of Fordham-educated Broadway professionals.

He sat down with Fordham Magazine just before the Tony Awards to reflect on his career path and share one of his most memorable celebrity stories.

You are a huge cheerleader for all things Fordham. What initially drew you here?
Fordham was my first choice. I grew up in Philadelphia, and both my parents went to Saint Joseph’s University, which is the Jesuit university there. So we were very familiar with Jesuit, liberal arts education—the idea of coming to college and exploring, and truly having this university journey of figuring out what you want to be and what you want to do.

And at Fordham, you marry that with the greatest city in the world, New York City, which has always felt like my home away from home—and has now been my home for 20-plus years. It doesn’t get better than Fordham.

You achieved great success by blending your passion for theater with a new one that you found here. What kind of mentorship did you receive?
I came into Fordham thinking that I was going to pursue acting, but I took an intro to communications course, and my professor, Lewis Freeman, polled the class: “How many of you have thought about being a reporter?” I remember raising my hand. I grew up loving shows like Dateline NBC and 20/20.

He said, “If you are lucky enough, get yourself an internship at Spectrum News New York 1—you can explore and learn what it takes to be in the business and they have an amazing internship program.” That summer, I applied. I was also up for a role in a professional production of Hair in Brooklyn. And I kind of told myself, “Whatever is meant to be is meant to be.” I got NY1 and never looked back.

Photo courtesy of Frank DiLella

You came here with dreams of breaking into the theater world, and now you’re such an integral part of it. What is it like to be part of the Fordham community on Broadway?
We’re called the “Fordham Posse.” When it’s revealed to someone that you went to Fordham, it’s like, “Oh, we’re part of the same family.”

I think of John Johnson, who is a celebrated theater producer who graduated in 2002, the year I started, but would always come back—again, this family mentality. He’s someone I definitely looked up to. Van Hughes, who has gone on to be in various Broadway shows, was part of my crew. Taylor Schilling from Orange is the New Black. Kelley Curran was my close friend. Paul Wontorek too—he’s the editor-in-chief for Broadway.com, and we are very much working colleagues. There is definitely a lot of Fordham love to go around.

You’ve interviewed just about every famous actor that has come through Broadway over your time at NY1. Do you have a favorite story?
I got to know Elaine Stritch very well. She had a residency at the Café Carlyle for years, and like clockwork, every spring I would sit down with her. Towards the end of her life, I got a call saying, “Elaine would like to speak to you to do a story.” I went to her residence, and she couldn’t sit up, so she said to me, “Frank, get in bed with me. Just talk to me about my life.”

Now, this is a woman who was very close to Judy Garland. She went on a date with JFK. She was close friends with Ethel Merman. To me, she is what we think of when we think of legends of Broadway, absolute legends of entertainment. I mean, the stories that she had, I’ll never forget that. We had so much fun. We had so many laughs.

There’s a clip of Hugh Jackman ending an interview with you saying, “Thanks Frank, you’re the best.” How does it feel to be such a trusted figure among these incredible artists?
Having access and trust with these artists—for them to open up to me and feel comfortable opening up for me—that is a true gift. And that’s one of my favorite things about this job. I’m so grateful to get to be with these people to tell the stories.

Interview conducted, edited, and condensed by Franco Giacomarra, FCLC ’19.

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