A Bronx-born actress has already caught the pulic’s eye and soon we will be seeing even more of her in her soon-to-be performed off-Broadway show.
Janet Marie Lee, who goes by stage names Sonny Marie Lee or simply ‘The Bronx Babe’, has been acting and modeling for almost her entire life.
She began modeling with Ford Models at age 20 and began acting in her early 20s – appearing in various commercials, soap operas, films, community theater and magazines after receiving opportunities to perform at theater gigs and talent shows as a teenager.
“When I was a kid, my biggest dream was to be a ballerina,” Marie Lee recalled. “It was devastating when I came to the realization that it wasn’t going to happen, but I knew I had a real acting talent from the way I would read books as a teenager – I would act the book out.”
While attending school in the Fordham Hill area many students questioned her heritage.
In one particular instance, which happened to be Sonny’s first day of junior high school, she was approached by three Puerto Rican girls who asked if she was white.
Sonny sarcastically replied, “It sure looks like it!”
Just as the girls were about to jump her, based on her race alone, she replied, “My mother was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico and my father is Irish, so you better find a way to kick half my butt!”
The girls burst out laughing and then gave her a high-five, calling her ‘Blanca’ from then on, or ‘white girl’.
The experience was so amazing and life altering to Sonny that she included the scenario in The Bronx Babe, a one-woman show that reflects on Sonny’s life in her junior high school years, which she performed at the Knights of Columbus on her birthday last year.
Despite an energetic and funny personality, Sonny has experienced a lot of pain and sadness in her life involving many family members.
In 1973, when Sonny was just 14 years old, her father passed away. She also lost her mother in 2008.
In addition, Sonny’s sister unexpectedly died from cancer in 2012, followed by her brother just three months later.
Sonny said that the original Bronx Babe was a dedication to her late father.
Despite her sad past, Sonny is more motivated than ever to pursue her career as an actor.
The 59-year old is currently preparing for a sequel show to The Bronx Babe, which is expected to hit a local off-Broadway theater in the Bronx or NYC in either fall 2016 or spring 2017.
The sequel, also based on a true story, will relive her high school years – reflecting on times such as when she would play hooky and go to Botanical Garden with her friends or witness gangs such as the Irish Henchmen, the Puerto Rican-based Savage Skulls and the Black Spades.
“This is my story about American and Bronx culture in the early 1970s – and everybody needs to know about it,” said Sonny, who says that both plays can relate to classic works like West Side Story and Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’.
“I know that I can make people happy by talking about my personal experiences in junior high and high school – mainly because this is true story about the Bronx from a women’s point of view that can educate younger generations and make older generations reminisce.”
Sonny added that she hopes both plays eventually result in a Broadway show and/or film.
However, she is not limiting herself to just performances.
She recently released a children’s book, ‘The Magical Sewing Machine’ and is currently preparing the release of her new perfume.
Going forward, she has also said that she wishes to promote businesses made in the Bronx, get involved with Bronx breweries and help community organizations.
Sonny’s experiences in junior high and high school may have contributed to her success afterwards as an actor and a model.
However, she claims that finding success starts with one’s thought process.
“I just believed in myself,” Sonny said. “I knew that nobody would believe in me more than I would, and I knew that I had many talents to share – so I put both in action.”
“Along with my perspective and personal experiences, I feel that I have a story to tell – a true story about the Bronx that can touch many.”