Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Broadway Review—New Musical “A Bronx Tale”

A Bronx Tale
Book by Chazz Palminteri; music by Alan Menken; lyrics by Glenn Slater
Directed by Robert DeNiro and Jerry Zaks; choreographed by Sergio Trujillo
Opened December 1, 2016
Longacre Theatre, 220 West 48th Street, New York, NY

Nick Cordero and Hudson Loverro in A Bronx Tale (photo: Joan Marcus)
Of all the musical adaptations that have cluttered the Broadway landscape recently, I didn’t have much hope for A Bronx Tale. Based on Chazz Palminteri’s autobiographical one-man stage show—itself turned into a 1993 film directed by and starring Robert DeNiro—it follows a young Italian boy, Calogero, befriended by a Mafia hood who becomes his strangely credible second father of sorts.

But despite such innately unmusical material, A Bronx Tale works handily onstage. Palminteri’s book nicely balances the comic overtones of a streetwise kid’s growing up in the 1960s with the serious undertones of Sonny’s violent way of life. Even the romantic subplot between teenage Calogero and his girlfriend Jane plays out in an era of racial strife—Jane is black—giving added weight to what would otherwise be frivolous high school happenings.

Director Jerry Zaks’ forte is the zestiness of the staging, although the sudden violence and intense confrontations may be co-director DeNiro’s contribution. Always a clever hand with stage movement, Sergio Trujillo provides shapely and vigorous choreography. If Glenn Slater’s lyrics are passable at best and shopworn at worst, Alan Menken’s songs remain pleasantly entertaining al a Jersey Boys, which the framework of this show vaguely resembles.

The large cast is uniformly good, even if Richard H. Blake and Lucia Giannetta, both engaging as Calogero’s parents, have too little to do. Ariana Debose makes a winning Jane, and if Bobby Conte Thornton is a little too on the nose as the grown-up Calogero, Hudson Loverro is an irresistibly appealing presence as the young boy.

Best of all is Nick Cordero as Sonny, whom Palminteri played in the movie. In a bit of serendipity, Cordero also played Cheech in the Broadway version of Bullets over Broadway, which Palminteri had also played in Woody Allen’s classic movie. So Cordero has always shown adeptness at portraying hoods with a brilliantly uncanny way of simultaneously playing into the mobster stereotype and hilariously, even touchingly, transcending it.

That Cordero also has a fantastic stage presence—which he puts to thrilling use in his solo number, “One of the Great Ones”—earns him the overused sobriquet “show-stopper.” A Bronx Tale is a fun diversion, but Cordero makes it well-nigh unmissable.

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