Author/Actor Chazz Palmintiri first shared his personal story with the public in a highly lauded 1989 one man show. Robert De Niro subsequently made his directorial debut with a film starring Palminteri and himself. With that success came a revival of the solo presentation on Broadway. And now a musical. I have to say, I regret missing the piece in its original form. “It’s my story, the one that shattered the world that I knew” would then have hit home.
“…a warm summer night on Belmont Avenue, you’d hear Italian men romancing their women…Marie, get the fuck in the car!” (She gives him the finger.) Lines like these, which I presume come from the original source, are thoroughly appealing. Nicknames of both street kids and local goons are wonderfully explained. (As the latter are introduced, each faces front and sideways while flashes go off resembling the taking of mug shots.) There are conversations and come-backs that land with winning specifics. The book holds solid.
Bobby Conte Thornton and Hudson Loverro
After a cliché musical opening (done less obviously by In the Heights), a doo-wop group sets the scene. The show might have had great time with this genre, rhythm and blues, and period pop. Instead most numbers emerge an amalgam of pop and generic Broadway. I’m afraid the talented Alan Menken has been too long with Disney to put much pith into the score which sounds homogenized. Glenn Slater’s lyrics fare somewhat better, though I never figured out to what undisclosed “talent” the protagonist was supposed to stay true. (A reoccurring theme.) There are at least five reprises.
Rory Max Kaplan, Keith White, Dominic Nolfi, Joe Barbara, Hudson Loverro, Cary Tedder
Still, much about the musical is entertaining. Its story, which reminds one of a 1950s black and white film, is narrated by grown up Calogero (Bobby Conte Thornton for whom mustering sympathy is nigh impossible) until he steps into his teenage shoes. At nine years-old, the boy (Hudson Loverro with apt braggadocio), instinctively covers for street boss Sonny (Nick Cordero) and becomes his pet. Minutes in a church confessional and “my soul was clean.”
With status, he acquires neighborhood deference, freebees, and entry into the periphery of mob life. Throwing dice for his inadvertent mentor (in a scene out of Guys and Dolls) seems like great fun, especially when he earns an appreciable tip. Errands are run – nothing dangerous. Sonny is genuinely fond of the boy. At no point does he consider taking him into the business. They call me C and “I Like It,” Calogero sings proudly in one of the cool songs. (Ain’t It The Truth?” is another.)
Hudson Loverro and Richard H. Blake; Bobby Conte Thornton and Nick Cordero
Despite being warned off by bus driver father Lorenzo (Richard H. Blake) and earnest mom Rosina (Luicia Giannetta), C trails Sonny like a puppy, watching and learning. “The working man’s a sucker, kid, remember that,” the boss says. “They don’t love him, they fear him,” Lorenzo points out when his son observes Sonny’s popularity. Our hero is at the center of a tug of war and might go either way.
Things are brought to a head when C falls for a black girl named Jane (Ariana Debose). Shades of West Side Story. All their friends are against a relationship. The two factions first lurch at the edge of bigoted violence, then literally explode. If it weren’t for Sonny…
The tale has a big heart and aspects to recommend, but it could have been so much better.
Bobby Conte Thornton (center) Nick Cordero (right) and The Company
Nick Cordero’s Sonny is flat out the best thing on the stage. The artist inhabits posture, gesture, accent and attitude making his character whole and human. He sings well losing none of this.
To my mind, Directors Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks both miss opportunity to show character definition and allow the leading man to get away with being bland. Stage flow, pacing, and use of levels are excellent.
Choreography by Sergio Trujillo enlivens proceedings. There’s a splendid, original number employing claps and slaps. Beowulf Boritt’s Set contains terrific, multi-story fire escapes against backgrounds that look like amateur summer stock. William Ivy Long’s Costumes work for the men, but are universally unflattering on the women. Fight Coordination by Robert Westley is as fake as it comes.
Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: Bobby Conte Thornton (center). Bradley Gibson & Ariana DeBose (left), Lucia Giannetto & Richard H. Blake (right)
A Bronx Tale
Book by Chazz Palminteri
Music by Alan Menken; Lyrics by Glenn Slater
Based on the book by Chaz Palminteri
Directed by Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks
220 West 48th Street