A Bronx Tale: The Musical
Longacre Theatre, NYC, January 19, 2017
Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes
Sometimes a story comes across with such simplicity and familiarity that it welcomes revisits in various forms. Actor/writer Chazz Palminteri’s A Bronx Tale, produced off-Broadway in 1989, was originally a one-man, coming-of-age show about growing up in a Bronx Italian-American neighborhood. It came to Broadway in 2007. where it was directed by Jerry Zaks. Palminteri went on to write a screenplay in 1993, expanding the story and cast, with Palminteri co-starring with Robert De Niro. De Niro later joined Zaks to co-direct A Bronx Tale in a full-blown musical rendition. And here it is, at the Longacre Theatre, still a simple story, still as familiar and comfortable on a large Broadway stage as it was off-Broadway and on film.
The ’60s in New York City was an era of tight ethnic neighborhoods and traditions. Palminteri’s tale, narrated by Bobby Conte Thornton as Calogero Anello, adds a star-crossed interracial romance to soften the underground crime center of the story. At the top of the show, a talented young scene-stealer, Hudson Loverro, plays Calogero as a ten-year-old who refuses to finger a local mobster, Sonny (Nick Cordero), in a brutal street shooting. While the boy’s silence earns Sonny’s lifelong gratitude, it goes against his own father’s ethics. Lorenzo, a loving parent played by Richard H. Blake, tries to impart higher principles to his son, but Calogaro is drawn to Sonny’s swagger and ready cash. He is embarrassed that Lorenzo is just a city bus driver, far less flashy and making far less money and, as Calogero grows up, he remains conflicted between Lorenzo’s high ideals and Sonny’s neighborhood magnetism.
Cordero adeptly layers his portrayal of the sleazy Sonny with a menacing charisma and is as believable playing this neighborhood thug as he was in Bullets Over Broadway, a role that won him the Outer Critics Circle and Theater World Awards. Giving young Calogaro a nickname, “C,” Sonny watches over him through the years, showing him the ropes, but later — when the teenaged “C” falls in love with Jane, an African-American high-school girl (Ariana DeBose) from neighboring Webster Avenue — there is trouble all around.
With tuneful music by Alan Menken (Little Shop of Horrors; Aladdin) and lyrics by Glenn Slater (School of Rock), the rhythmic R&B score reflects a place and time similar to the Jersey Boys songbook. Under a lamppost and in front of a stoop, the show opens with “Belmont Avenue,” a doo-wop four-part harmony introduction to Palminteri’s old neighborhood. Lorenzo gives his son some sage but pedantic advice in a ballad, “Look to Your Heart,” but ten-year-old “C” loves the neighborhood. “I Like It,” he insists, adding, “Life’s a carnival ride since Sonny happened to me.” Sonny has his own advice for the boy with “Ain’t It the Truth” and, in a poignant moment, he shares his reflections about love and life with “One of the Great Ones.”
Chazz Palminteri shares deep memories of the sights and sounds of his old neighborhood, brought to life with choreographer Sergio Trujillo’s ebullient dances and an energetic cast. Beowulf Boritt’s set of fire escapes, stoops and storefronts is given atmospheric lighting by Howell Binkley. William Ivey Long designed perfectly appropriate costumes for the Bronx in the 1960s.
A Bronx Tale may not be “One of the Great Ones,” but it presents one man’s flavorful, nostalgic visit back to the neighborhood, and features two promising Broadway debuts for Hudson Loverro and Bobby Conte Thornton.