By Karen Isaacs
When I entered the Longacre Theater to see the new musical A Bronx Tale, I may have been the only person there who had never experienced the work before.
Most of you are familiar with the material either from the 1993 film of the same name that marked Robert De Niro’s directing debut or from the one-man show that was the inspiration of the movie. The one man play and film were both written by Chazz Palminteri and is based on his life. He has performed the one man show since its conception in the late‘80s into the 21st century.
A Bronx Tale is a coming-of-age story of a young man, Calogero, who is growing up in the1960s in a very Italian section of the Bronx. It begins when Calogero as a young boy (8 to 10 years old) sees a mafia hit. He refuses to identify the shooter (the local boss Sonny) to the police; thereafter Sonny takes a liking to the boy considering him almost a good luck charm. As Calogero grows up, he is drawn to the glamour and excitement of Sonny’s life despite the efforts of his bus driver father to lure him away. But we have a happy ending; Sonny both protects Calogero and pushes him away from the gangster life that some of his friends are embracing. The story ends with Sonny’s death and the reconciliation of Sonny and his father, Lorenzo.
Palminteri has written the book for the musical with musical by Alan Menken (Little Shop of Horrors, Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid and more shows) and lyrics by Glenn Slater (Little Mermaid, Sister Act, School of Rock). It’s co-directed by DeNiro and Jerry Zaks, who certainly knows his way around a musical. It would be interesting to know who contributed what.
The result of this talented group is a musical that may not set the world on fire, but will provide a very enjoyable evening’s entertainment. In many ways it is a somewhat old-fashioned musical: no rap or hip-hop, there’s actual dialogue not sung-through lyrics, and a satisfying ending.
If you won’t be humming the music as you leave the theater, you will have enjoyed it while listening and would be fine with hearing it again.
Yet – and this is important – there is a lot that is very good about this show. Nick Cordero who plays Sonny is excellent. He infuses the character with both the assurance and moxie of a gangster but shows his softer side with his concern for Calogero. Calogero is played by Hudson Loverro (or Atthan Sporek) as a child and Bobby Conte Thornton as the late teenage.
Cordero can sing and dance yet still maintain the gangster persona; after all he won a Tony for the bodyguard/hit man in Bullets over Broadway. His rendition of “One of the Great One” – one of the best songs in the show – is terrific.
Thornton is making his Broadway debut and he certainly does a good job as the maturing
Calogero, or C as Sonny calls him. He shows him growing up, having his first love, hanging with his friends and then realizing that the glamour and easy money of the gangster life is neither glamourous nor easy.
Richard H. Blake, plays the hard-working, earnest father in a gentle, loving manner. Unfortunately the role is underwritten and disappears for long periods of time. Yet Blake lets you feel that man’s helplessness as Sonny’s lifestyle turns his son’s head.
Calogero’s mother, Lucia Giannetta, is another role that makes little impact. She seems there merely to provide a maternal gaze.
The musical borrows heavily from other shows, from the doo-wop group singing neath the streetlight to the interracial romance between Calogero and Jane which leads to some r and b music. There’s even a minor gang attack.
Production values are excellent. The lighting Howell Binkley baths the stage in colors that emphasize the action. Beowulf Boritt has created a set that firmly puts us in an Italian urban neighborhood. Sergio Trujillo gives us enjoyable if not super original choreography.
Despite all by criticisms, I enjoyed this show. Yes, I kept waiting for Joe Pesci and Frankie Vallee to show up, but it was fun. I loved the names of the various henchmen in Sonny’s gang – Eddie the Mush, JoJo the Whale, Frankie Coffeecake and more. Yes, it is reminiscent of Guys and Dolls but it was still fun and the actors did a great job with the roles.
A Bronx Tale is at the Longacre Theatre, 220 w. 48th Street. Tickets are available through Telecharge.