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.
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.
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
220 West 48th Street, NYC