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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Longacre Theatre


  Ph: Joan Marcus

In Los Angeles in 1988, unknown actor Chazz Palminteri wrote a solo play, A Bronx Tale, about his memories of growing up in the Italian section of the Bronx. It debuted in New York off-Broadway a year later and attracted the attention of actor Robert De Niro, who eventually starred in and directed the 1993 film version of the play. I caught Palminteri's one-man show when it was revived on Broadway in 2007. I found it to be an excellent slice of American life, with Palminteri as a youngster named Calogero standing under a Bronx Belmont Avenue street lamp filling our heads with tales of the dozens of colorfully checkered people who populated his 1960s youth. His two heroes were his Dad, a loving bus driver Lorenzo (Richard H. Blake) and a local Bronx capo, Sonny (Nick Cordero), whose life he unwittingly saves. The moral of the play's touching story is Calogero's wrestling with the feelings he felt for both of these two very different opposing father figures.
Now A Bronx Tale is a musical at Broadway's Longacre Theatre on West 48th Street. They have assembled a golden crew around Palminteri to craft the new show, with Alan Menken doing the music and Glenn Slater the lyrics, both Disney and Broadway composing favorites. Choreography is by Sergio Trujillo, who won a Tony for Jersey Boys, and co-direction by Di Nero and theater stalwart Jerry Zaks. The result is an amiable effort that doesn't quite work the way Palminteri's solo show did. There his words and acting did it all. Now he has collaborators galore, and it seems to dwarf his personal tale. In adapting his libretto from his play he has stripped it of some of its feeling and fun. He probably could have used a musical book writer since when musicals go awry its usually due to libretto problems.
It starts off nicely with a quartet of doo-wop guys singing, setting the audience at ease and giving us a feel of the 60s milieu. There are some nice rock 'n roll tunes that seem like throwback numbers that might remind you of songs Menken wrote with his late collaborator Howard Ashman during their The Little Shop of Horrors days. There are also a couple of ballads – “Look to Your Heart," which Lorenzo sings to his young son Calogero (Hudson Loverro), and “Out of Your Heart,” which Bobby Conte Thornton, the older Calogero, sings to his new girlfriend Jane (Ariana DeBose). For me the best song in the show is Sonny's “One of the Great Ones,” as he tries to give advice to teenage Calogero. It has humor and wit and in its own way is a showstopper.
Trujillo is a choreographer who knows how to pick the finest dancers on Broadway, and he creates a couple of dazzling ensemble dance numbers that capture the time.
The show has been called a combination of Jersey Boys and West Side Story. Jersey Boys had a much tighter dramatic book and a slicker look, and West Side Story was crafted on Shakespeare's tragedy Romeo and Juliet. Here all of a sudden in act two the tone of the show changes and class and race problems are introduced into the show's mix. Before that the young Calogero has a sweetness to his character even after he saves Sonny's life. When Calogero grows up to be a teenager he's not only played by a different actor but becomes a whole new person. That is when the atmosphere changes into West Side Story mode and the show becomes awkwardly melodramatic.
The cast is large and full of first-rate actors who sadly don't have a lot to do. The young Calogero (Hudson Loverro), at 8 years old, is a wonder and we miss him when he grows up and is replaced by Bobby Conte Thornton, who is excellent in a different way and has a fine singing voice. His Dad Lorenzo (Richard H. Blake) has some effective songs in act one and then sort of disappears. His mother Rosina (Lucia Giannetta) and Calogero's girlfriend Jane (Ariana Debose), who I admired in Hamilton last year, are both great talents and we don't see or hear enough of them here. The show's leading man, Sonny (Nick Cordero), is perfection and if Chazz Palminteri doesn't watch out he will take over all his acting roles.
Beowulf Boritt did the set design with lots of scenic drops and fire escapes that evoke the Bronx. William Ivy Long did the costumes, and the lighting is by Howell Binkley. A Bronx Tale is not the musical we hoped for, but it does have entertaining moments and a talented cast.


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