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A CurtainUp Review
A Bronx Tale
By Elyse Sommer
Robert De Niro opened up the solo piece and cast Palminteri as Sonny, the neighborhood's number one hood and a major influence on Palminteri's young alter ego. That popular 1991 film and the role he played in it turned Palminteri into a working actor instead of a starving one.
The success of other actors enjoying star turns on Broadway with solo memoirs led to a 2007 revival on the main stem, with Palminteri once again playing its many characters. I felt that he gave a zesty performance and that the years between 1991 and 2007 had been kind to him, but the material hadn't aged well. The Broadway-ish production values didn't make up for it seeming a bit worn and unnecessary —especially since the excellent film was still available (and is to this day).
For this combination gangster and schmaltzy coming of age story to have yet another life on Broadway something really new is needed. And that something new is — what else? — to turn it into a musical.
With Robert De Niro on board to co-direct with Jerry Zaks (who also helmed the movie) that musical was launched last season at the Papermill Playhouse. The praises garnered there have now brought it to the Longacre Theater.
Though Palminteri's career boosting solo validated his acting capabilities, he's no song and dance man. But a multi-talented young actor named Nick Cordero sure is. That's the same Nick Cordero who took over the role of Cheech that Palmintero played in Woody Allen's Bullets Over Broadway when that movie was made into a musical. Cordero's Cheech was that production's biggest show stealer.
Cordero's sinister yet charismatic gangster-in-chief contributes mightily towards making this singing and dancing A Bronx Tale an enjoyable musical entertainment. However, as Bullets Over Broadway was Cordero's breakout debut, so this new A Bronx Tale offers the same opportunity to the actor-playwright's 9-year-old and 17-year-old stand-ins. Hudson Loverro a young Calogero is not just adorable but a nifty dancer, fine singer and actor. Bobby Conte Thornton as the older Calogero is actually the show's nominal star since he is the narrator but actively and impressively participates throughout.
Palminteri is of course present and accounted for as the book writer so you can count on the original story being pretty much intact: an authentically flavored trip down memory lane. That means a return to the Bronx neighborhood where Palminteri grew up in the 1960s, influenced by both his upstanding bus driver father Lorenzo (an excellent Richard H. Blake) and Sonny. He loves dad but is drawn into the local Godfather's circle of colorful but cartoonish cohorts after refusing to identify him as the shooter in murder witnessed from the stoop in front of his house. A $100 gift from Sonny after he proves himself a winning dice rolling mascot is especially seductive and for a while it looks as if he'll follow Sonny's life style.
Though romanticized like the original this new A Bronx Tale is now filled with melodies by Alan Menken (a Disney musical veteran) and lyrics by Glen Slater (School of Rock lyricist). Their musical pot pourri of the era's styles begins with a doo-wop quartet (Rory Max Kaplan,Dominic Nolfi, Cary Tedder, Keith White) crooning around a lamp post in front of Beowulf Boritt's richly atmospheric tenement street scene.
While the show has been given a sugary Disney gloss, the score is easy on the ears and the lyrics advance the story and include show stoppers like Cordero's terrific "Nicky Machiavelli" — Sonny's prison-acquired philosophical lessons imparted to young Calogero. It's the struggle between Sonny's gangsterish beliefs and Calogero's law abiding dad's mantra of "the saddest thing in life is wasted talent" that drives the plot towards it predictable outcome.
Both Calogeros get to sing the show's best song "I Like It." For the older Calogero it's a reprise the younger one's rousing rendition.
While the struggle for the path young Calogero will follow is between his natural and figurative father, his mom, Rosina (Lucia Giannetta) gets to give her take on "Look to Your Heart." Additional plot complications revolve around the racial tensions between the blacks and Italians living in adjoining sections of the borough. This explodes into West Side Story reminiscent violence as a result of a romance between Calogero and Jane, an African-American schoolmate (Ariana DeBose another appealing newcomer to the Broadway cast). The subplot paves the way for Sergio Trujillo choreography, a lively mix of Broadway pop and period dances that keep things in motion. This fluidity is underscored by Beowulf Borritt smoothly rotating and sliding scenic units. Howell Bunkley lights it all with his usual expertize; ditto for the true to the period costumes of William Ivey Long
Slick, colorful and tuneful as it is, the overall feel and those echoes of West Side Story do place this into pleasingly but standard Broadway musical territory. So don't expect a really special game changer like Hamilton, or a small ground breaker like Fun Home. That said, the smartly orchestrated, ear pleasing tunes and lively staging add up old-fashioned — all loose ends neatly tied up — escape fare.
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A Bronx Tale
Book by Chazz Palminteri
Mmusic by Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater.
Co-Directed by Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks.
Choreographed by Sergio Trujillo. Cast: Principal characters: Nick Cordero (Sonny), Richard H. Blake (Lorenzo), Bobby Conte Thornton (Calogero), Hudson Loverro (Young Calogero), Athan Sporek (Young Calogero Alternate) Ariana DeBose (Jane), Lucia Giannetta (Rosina), Bradley Gibson (Tyrone), plus a 30-member cast.
Sets: Beowulf Boritt;
Costumes:William Ivey Long
Lighting: Howell Binkley
Sound: Gareth Owen
Hair and Wig Design: Paul Huntley
Makeup Design: Anne Ford-Coates
Fight Coordinator: Robert Westley
Orchestrations: Doug Besterman
Music Director: Jonathan Smith
Music Coordinator: John Miller
Period Music Consultant: Johnny Gale
Stage Manager: Michael Rico Cohen Running Time: 2 hours, includes 1 intrmission
Longacre Theatre 220 West 48th Street
From 11/03/16; opening 12/01/16.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on November 29th press matinee
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