A Bronx Tale
Longacre Theatre, 220 West 48th Street, Manhattan
Review by Deirdre Donovan
Runs: from Dec 1, 2016 through...
Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks co-direct this new musical that takes you into the beating heart of the Bronx.
A Bronx Tale, in its musical version, wasn’t created ex nihilo. Based on a book by Chazz Palminteri, it began as a solo play in 1989 Off-Broadway, a semi-autobiographical sketch performed by Palminteri at the now-defunct Playhouse 91 on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. De Niro heard the buzz on the show and went to see it during its short run. Charmed by the piece, De Niro persuaded Palminteri to let him develop and direct a film adaptation of his one-man play, in which Palminteri would perform Sonny and he would co-star as the father Lorenzo. Following the success of the 1993 movie, both artists toyed with the idea of a musical version. But, alas, the project failed to materialize. Undaunted, Palminteri revived his solo version on Broadway in 2007 and garnered critical acclaim. The stars finally aligned for the musical version when De Niro and Jerry Zaks agreed to team-up as directors, with a first-rate creative team in tow. It premiered at the Paper Mill Playhouse on February 14, 2016, and the creative team already was eyeing Broadway for its future.
Enough history. Here’s the story: The action takes place in an Italian-American ghetto in the Bronx of the 60s. There we meet Sonny, a small-time mob boss who rules over his rough-and-tumble Bronx neighborhood at Belmont Avenue. When a quarrel over a parking space breaks out one day, and a guy with a bat strikes down their neighbor Carmine, Sonny fatally shoots the guy, with a 9-year-old boy named Calogero witnessing the incident from his nearby stoop. The cops later question the young Calogero about the killing but he refuses to squeal on Sonny. Grateful, Sonny takes Calogero under his wing, gives him the sobriquet “C,” and teaches him how to survive on the mean streets of the Bronx. Sonny becomes a surrogate father to Calogero (Calogero’s biological father is a bus-driver), and the boy learns the ways of the world and more.
If you’re looking for a modern-day fable, you can’t do better than A Bronx Tale. It has all the essential ingredients—adventure, romance, danger—that makes the genre sing. Add a gritty urban set by Beowulf Boritt, music by Alan Menken (yes, he of Disney fame), lyrics by three-time Tony nominee Glenn Slater, and choreography by Sergio Trujillo who put the bounce into last season’s On Your Feet!
If the creatives are a dream-team, so are the performers. Nick Cordero, playing Sonny, infuses the capo with authority and brio. Cordero puts a swagger, not only in his walk, but his streetwise talk. Still, Cordero is at his best when his character drops the tough-guy image and becomes Calogero’s stand-in father and helps him navigate the streets of the Bronx.
Other notable performances? Hudson Loverro is impressive as the Young Calogero. Loverro may be pint-sized--but there’s nothing pint-sized about his talent. He manages to belt out all his songs in a crystal-clear tone and his acting is feisty. Richard H. Blake, as Calogero’s “real” father, injects just the right amount of old-fashioned virtues and down-to-earth good sense in his character. When it comes to the supporting actors, Ted Brunetti as Frankie Coffeecake, Michael Barra as Jolo the Whale, and Paul Salvatoriello as Tony-Ten-To-Two add convincing neighborhood flavor to the proceedings.
De Niro and Zaks’ coups de theatre at the Longacre is terrific to watch. No question both artists complement each other’s talents. De Niro comes to the project with all the savvy of his long and distinguished artistic career, and Zaks with his arsenal of theatrical magic.
Let’s not forget the subplot! Although it doesn’t get fully integrated into the main plot, it shows the maturing Calogero as he begins to date a young black girl in the neighborhood. When some of Calogero’s relatives and peers discover who he’s dating, it activates their racist impulses, something that Calogero must learn to deal with as he continues to define himself and his own values. Yes, the Bronx in the 60s was changing, and the social tensions were steadily building.
That said, there are many golden moments, not to mention the songs (“Look to Your Heart” is the most winning), in this musical. Consider the doo-wopping quartet spotlighted under the lamp-post at Belmont Avenue at the opener, crooning and snapping their fingers in perfect time here. Equally affecting is the heart-to-heart talk between Lorenzo and his young son Calogero, when he points out to him the tragedy of a person failing to develop their innate gifts. Or as Lorenzo puts it: “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent. Promise me you won’t waste yours.”
Happily, nothing is wasted in this Bronx Tale. The talents of the creative team and the cast are in full sail. If you are looking for a show that affirms the human spirit, look no further than this one.
At the Longacre, 220 West 48th Street, Manhattan.
For more information and tickets, phone 212-239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com.
Running Time: 2 hours, with one intermission.