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Theater Buff: ‘A Bronx Tale”s Rory Max Kaplan

December 24th, 2016 Comments off
Rory Max Kaplan (Photo: Damian Sandone via The Broadway Blog.)

Rory Max Kaplan (Photo: Damian Sandone via The Broadway Blog.)

Every month, a fabulous actor/singer/dancer fills out editor Matthew Wexler’s questionnaire and offers a glimpse of what he looks like from a bit closer than the mezzanine. To finish off 2016,  we’re staying close to home with New York native Rory Max Kaplan, currently appearing in A Bronx Tale. Based on Chazz Palminteri’s play and subsequent film, this streetwise musical will take you to the stoops of the Bronx in the 1960s—where a young man is caught between the father he loves and the mob boss he’d love to be.

Rory Max Kaplan (Photo:  Lauren Morrison via The Broadway Blog.)

Rory Max Kaplan (Photo: Lauren Morrison via The Broadway Blog.)

Name: 
Rory Max Kaplan

Hometown: 
New York

The ensemble gets quite a workout in A Bronx Tale. What was your audition experience like and how would you describe Sergio Trujillo’s choreography?
It was a blast and it really tested me – but there was a great vibe in the room and all I could think about was, “Dammit, I want this.”

Marc Kimelman (associate choreographer) taught the combination. He possesses a style that makes it easy to embody Sergio’s choreography—and I feel like I’m fulfilling my grandfather’s dream of dancing like Gene Kelly on Broadway. On the hour break we got after learning the combination, I got to meet and hang out with my future cast mate Cary Tedder. That was an unforgettable experience because for some reason I knew I was going to be working with this guy.

The other half of the process involved my auditions to understudy the role of Calogero. Stepping into a room with Jerry Zaks, Robert De Niro, Chazz Palminteri, all the producers and the rest of the creative team, to show them what I’ve got was one of many unforgettable experiences to come.

You get to play a lot of different characters throughout the show. Do you have a favorite?
I love being one of the four doo-wop guys. The four of us have a serious connection that we really put our hearts into creating. That totally carries over to playing “Handsome Nick.” I love the suit I wear (thanks to costume designer William Ivey Long). If I could have worn it to the opening night party, I would have. 

Did you have a chance to visit the neighborhood that served as Chazz Palminteri’s inspiration? If so, what was your experience?
A good chunk of us cast members took a trip to 187th Street and Belmont Avenue for a whole day. Chazz met up with us and we went to Little Italy where we ate at Mike’s Deli. We also made a trip to Gino’s Pastry Shop. I had the best cannoli and cappuccino ever. We sang some doo-wop under the streetlamp, with our loved ones watching us, which concluded a day truly spent with family. 

The cast of 'A Bronx Tale.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘A Bronx Tale.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

As a native New Yorker, what was it like growing up in the city?
New York City will always be my home. You grow up to develop a different perspective about this city versus someone who moves here having grown up somewhere else. I’d like to say it’s a place just like anywhere else, but that would be a lie. I learned everything from this city. And it’s still teaching me. There was nothing like taking dance classes here or having Broadway as your local theater scene. Not to mention the streets and the people—the best character study there is.

Places, Intermission or Curtain Call?
“This is your places call! Places please – places for the top of Act I.”  There is nothing like hearing those words.

If I weren’t a performer, I would be:
A music producer.

The best post-show cocktail in New York City is at:
My dressing room.  

After you’ve hit all the traditional sites of New York City, you should totally go to:
Search the Village and look up where to hear live music. Have yourself a real New York experience—other than seeing a Broadway show, of course.

Rory Max Kaplan (Photo:  Lauren Morrison via The Broadway Blog.)

Rory Max Kaplan (Photo: Lauren Morrison via The Broadway Blog.)

If I could live anywhere else in the world, it would be:
I have yet to see enough places around the world to have a preference, but Canada has been sounding great these days.

My workout “secret” is:
Get really good at throwing women over your head. And catch them as they come down. Please catch them. (Onstage, of course!)

Rory Max Kaplan (Photo courtesy of 'A Bronx Tale.')

Rory Max Kaplan (Photo courtesy of ‘A Bronx Tale.’)

When I’m looking for a date, nothing attracts me more than:
Laughter and soul.

My favorite website to visit that you may not have heard of is:
avengedsevenfold.com
change.org

People would be surprised to learn that I…
Had my first motorcycle ride when I was just over a week old.

When I was 10, I wanted to be just like:
Jim Carrey 

Ten years from now, I’d like to have:
A long career behind me as well as in front of me. Film, TV and still rockin’ the stage, with a wife and family by my side.

A Bronx Tale is currently playing at the Longacre Theatre.

Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on social media at @roodeloo

A Tale of Too Many Cities: ‘A Bronx Tale’

December 7th, 2016 Comments off
'A Bronx Tale' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

‘A Bronx Tale’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

A Bronx Tale, which recently opened on Broadway at the Longacre Theatre, represents the latest in a continuation of big budget musical adaptations that producers hope will resonate with audiences looking for feel-good shows without too much brain strain. (Take note: Dear Evan Hansen and Off Broadway’s Ride the Cyclone are tempting to break the cycle and have received acclaim from audiences and critics alike.)

Originally inspired by an altercation he had as a doorman at a nightclub, Chazz Palminteri created the one-man show for the stage. The piece was a springboard for the successful 1992 film version, which expanded the narrative into a fully realized feature with a cast of heavy hitters including Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, as well as Palminteri recreating his role as Calogero.

The musical has the creative backing of some of the original team, including a book by Palminteri and co-directors De Niro along with four-time Tony Award winner Jerry Zaks, who I imagine did most of the heavy lifting. With music by Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, Little Shop of Horrors), lyrics by Glenn Slater (School of Rock, The Little Mermaid), and choreography by Sergio Trujillo (On Your Feet!), there are plenty of A-listers in the playbill… which may be what sinks A Bronx Tale like a thug who finds himself wearing cement shoes in the East River.

(l to r) Hudson Loverro, Richard H. Blake, and Lucia Giannetta in 'A Bronx Tale.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) Hudson Loverro, Richard H. Blake, and Lucia Giannetta in ‘A Bronx Tale.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Calogero (Bobby Conte Thornton) narrates the story of his urban adventures on Belmont Avenue in the Bronx during the 1960s, as played out by the younger version of himself (Hudson Loverro) and parents Lorenzo (Richard H. Blake) and Rosina (Lucia Giannetta). The young boy witnesses a crime on the street, which sets in motion a lifelong mentorship between him and mafia ringleader Sonny (Nick Cordero).

Family tensions run high as Lorenzo encourages his son to stay away from Sonny and his gang of criminal misfits, but the young man doesn’t see much of a future for himself if he follows his father’s straight-laced ways. In the meantime, Calogero’s wandering eyes land on Jane (Ariana De Bose), a black girl from Webster Avenue—a.k.a the wrong side of the tracks. The musical abruptly shifts into a musical about racial tensions with echoes of Hairspray and West Side Story but with neither the charm of the former or gravitas of the latter to hold much weight.

(l to r) BobbyConte Thornton and Nick Cordero in 'A Bronx Tale.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) BobbyConte Thornton and Nick Cordero in ‘A Bronx Tale.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Several performances float above the polluted plot lines. Cordero, who’s recently made a career for himself as the bad guy in Waitress and Bullets Over Broadway, manages to find the delicate balance between tough guy and heart of gold. Thornton shifts midway from narrator to leading man, and his doughy-eyed innocence goes far though the orchestrations push the limits of his range. De Bose, too, has a spark, but the romance—all hinging on a date that never really comes to fruition—feels like a forced layer to an already cluttered script.

Menken’s score echoes The Four Seasons with some big musical theater ballads thrown in for good measure, while Trujillo’s choreography is brash, syncopated, and highly athletic, but doesn’t always feel connected to the story at hand. Lighting designer Howell Binkley often saturates Beowulf Boritt’s sets in pools of red—as if to remind us of the blood that runs in the streets (or maybe it’s pizza sauce.)

A Bronx Tale is an adequate evening of theater, but who wants to pay a top ticket price of $187 for average? Producers are rolling the dice like Sonny, hoping that audiences will bring a hit, but I’m just not sure that’s a bet I’d want to make.

A Bronx Tale
Longacre Theatre
220 West 48th Street, NYC

Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @roodeloo

‘A Bronx Tale’ Proves It’s a Borough Worthy of Its Own Musical

February 23rd, 2016 Comments off

by Ryan Leeds

'A Bronx Tale' at Paper Mill Playhouse. (Photo: Jerry Dalia via The Broadway Blog.)

‘A Bronx Tale’ at Paper Mill Playhouse. (Photo: Jerry Dalia via The Broadway Blog.)

Chazz Palminteri’s father had a consistent message for his son: “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent. Don’t waste yours, son. Promise me.” Palminteri, a born and raised Bronx resident, has taken that advice to the bank. His self-penned, 1989 semi-autobiographical solo play, A Bronx Tale, was based on his childhood experiences of growing up in New York City’s northern borough. In 1993, Robert De Niro attached himself to the film project as both actor and director and in 2007, Palminteri took his story to Broadway in a production helmed by Jerry Zaks.

Now, the three have joined forces, enlisting the musical talents of composer Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater for a musical treatment of the material. After recently viewing the movie and watching Paper Mill Playhouse’s stellar new incarnation, it is easy to understand why the story endures.

A Bronx Tale takes us to the corner of 187th Street and Belmont Avenue in the 1960s. Here, a young Calogero (Joshua Colley) witnesses a murder committed by local mafia man, Sonny (Nick Cordero) and soon finds himself caught between obedience to Lorenzo (Richard H. Blake), his working class father, and idol worship towards Sonny. As he matures, an older Calogero (Jason Gotay) embarks on a romantic dalliance with Jane (Coco Jones), an African American girl. This only leads to more dramatic tension between Calogero and his racist, hoodlum friends.

Nick Cordero (l) and Jason Gotay in 'A Bronx Tale." (Photo: Jerry Dalia via The Broadway Blog.)

Nick Cordero (l) and Jason Gotay in ‘A Bronx Tale.” (Photo: Jerry Dalia via The Broadway Blog.)

I’ll admit to skepticism about a musical version of this material. After watching the movie, I was curious how mobsters would translate to melody. The answer: very well.

Palminteri hasn’t reinvented the wheel with the musical’s book; through De Niro and Zaks’ careful direction and with Menken and Slater’s catchy and memorable score, he’s instead enhanced it with even more heart and soul. Sergio Trujillo adds an additional energy to the show with his spirited choreography, particularly in the energetic opener, “Belmont Avenue.”

For the most part, the cast is exceptional. Gotay, who also serves as the narrator, guides the show with a stoic and steady hand and is vocally sound. Cordero, with his imposing height and icy stare, rightfully incites fear and reverence as the neighborhood nabob. Blake brings a tender, fatherly warmth to his role, though his upper register often wanes. Colley is an outstanding young triple threat. With two Broadway credits under his belt, it will be exciting to watch his career unfold.

Menken, whose universally known credits include Newsies, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and many others, has returned to his earlier roots for inspiration. Many of his songs are reminiscent of one of his early works, Little Shop of Horrors, which featured styles of doo-wop and soul.  He also borrows from Nelson Riddle’s swinging arrangement of Frank Sinatra’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” in Sonny’s song about finding a true love (“One of the Great Ones”), and pulls from Marvin Gaye’s “All I Need To Get By” in Jane and Calogero’s duet, “In a World Like This.”

A Bronx Tale, which is eyeing a Broadway run, is not entirely flawless. It occasionally drifts into the territory of over-sentimentality and there are a couple of unnecessary songs that do little to advance the plot. Still, the themes of loyalty, family, and emancipation will resonate with general audiences and, with a few minor changes, it could well be a—dare I say it—hit?

A Bronx Tale
Paper Mill Playhouse
22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ
Through March 6

Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or on Facebook.