For anyone who hasn’t heard of WEST SIDE STORY with its Jets and Sharks rival New York gangs or the Damon Runyon characters in GUYS AND DOLLS or the near to closing JERSEY BOYS you now have an opportunity to witness a sort of hybrid of the above musicals at the Longacre Theatre where the recycled A BRONX TALE is entertaining audiences hungry for the sounds of the sixties, stoops, egg creams, baseball, doo-wop, slick hair, crap games, gangsters and guns.
I say recycled because originally this was a one man off-Broadway play (1989) – the autobiographical story of one Chazz Palminteri and his coming of age in the sixties. Facing a fork in the road of Belmont Avenue life: follow the sage advice of his bus driving dad Lorenzo or follow the not so sage advice of Sonny the local gangster – which became a film (1993) with Robert De Niro and Mr. Palminteri and again on Broadway as a solo play in 2007. So there is a built in following.
It is now an entertaining, slick musical with a superficial book by Mr. Palminteri that is co-directed by Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks in broad strokes. The music is by Alan Menken. The lyrics by Glenn Slater. The score has its ups and downs bringing back Doo-Wop with a quartet of likable guys, a few lively numbers that open each act (“Belmont Avenue” – “Webster Avenue”), a couple of fun numbers (“Roll ‘Em” and “Nicky Machiavelli” – a Mack the Knife type spinoff and my all-time favorite “One of the Great Ones.”
But A BRONX TALE somehow comes up less than the sum of its professional parts. The cast is excellent. Nick Cordero starring – as he should be – as Sonny the head thug of Belmont Avenue takes a nine year old Calogero (a super talented Hudson Loverro) under his questionable wing advising him not to be like his dad Lorenzo (Richard H. Blake) a well-meaning and honest bus driver while grown up Calogero (Bobby Conte Thornton) narrates with a strange vacant almost hypnotic gaze which disconnects him from the very personal story. He is good looking, the perfect type, sings well but doesn’t connect fully.
Unfortunately he does connect with Jane (a delightful Ariana Debose) falling for her hard. Thing is, she is of the rival Webster Avenue and black. So it’s the (and I quote) “the spooks vs the wops” in this forbidden 1968 love. Will they wind up together? Or will more shots ring out in the hood?
The overpowering set of movable tenement buildings with fire escapes – for what amounts to be an intimate story – by Beowulf Boritt – are great looking and create a great atmosphere. Sergio Trujillo has choreographed the show – not too much dancing but if we include the movable buildings he has done another fine job here. William Ivy Long does well with the period costumes. Neither a feather nor a sequin appear.
Mr. Cordero made a name for himself portraying an unlikable thug to great effect in BULLETS OVER BROADWAY and now he is at it again in what might become known as Bullets Over the Bronx. He has a way with these parts and we like him despite the distasteful character he portrays.
Direct from the Paper Mill Playhouse where it had its World Premiere February 2016.
Two hours with one intermission.
Photos: Joan Marcus
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