“A Bronx Tale-The Musical”
Who knew that Chazz Palminteri’s one man play, “A Bronx Tale” (also transformed into a film), would prove to be so satisfying as a musical? “A Bronx Tale-The Musical” just opened at the Longacre Theatre on Broadway and, while it isn’t a perfect show, it most definitely works. In addition to Chazz Palminteri writing the book for the musical, the real hero of “A Bronx Tale” is Alan Menken, who has written one of his finest scores for this show. What’s more, co-directors Jerry Zaks and Robert De Niro (who also starred in and directed the film version of “A Bronx Tale”) keep the show moving very smoothly, with a wonderful set design by Beowulf Boritt. “A Bronx Tale” is also exceedingly well-cast, with a particularly standout performance by Nick Cordero. “A Bronx Tale” runs a tight two hours, with intermission, and manages to do full justice to the power of Chazz Palminteri’s original play. This show is most highly recommended.
For those unfamiliar with the plot of “A Bronx Tale,” it concerns a young boy Calogero (splendidly played by Athan Sporek, at the performance I attended) growing up in the Bronx in the 1960s and winning favor from Sonny (the wonderful Nick Cordero), the head mob boss in the neighborhood. This mob boss takes Calogero under his wing, but the boy’s actual father Lorenzo (nicely portrayed by Richard H. Blake) still figures very strongly in his son’s life. The balance of the show is watching Calogero growing into adulthood and, most crucially, it focuses on the decisions he makes in his life.
In my experience, being extremely familiar with a show’s plot can take away somewhat from the enjoyment of watching the show and finding out what is going to happen next. In the case of “A Bronx Tale,” however, that knowledge of the plot beforehand actually adds to the strength of the musical. Indeed, the creators of this show have found ingenious ways of adapting Chazz Palminteri’s play and all the events that take place in it. Certainly, it helps that Palminteri himself has chosen to write the book for the musical (and he has done a fine job), but what really makes “A Bronx Tale” sing is the music composed by Alan Menken.
Alan Menken is perhaps most associated with writing great songs for Disney musicals, but his work on “A Bronx Tale” actually summons up the catchiness and style of his score for “Little Shop of Horrors.” There is a doo-wop sound to some of the music in “A Bronx Tale,” and Menken’s score feels entirely appropriate for a story set in the Bronx in the 1960s. The opening song, “Belmont Avenue,” sets up the show perfectly and manages to introduce the main characters who appear in the musical. Other standout songs include the powerful first act finale, “These Streets,” and the delightful “One of the Great Ones” in the second act, where Sonny teaches Calogero the test of how to find the right girl. It must be stated that Glenn Slater’s lyrics can, at times, feel a little clunky, but Menken’s music is always first-rate.
What also distinguishes this musical are the uniformly strong performances from the cast. As mentioned, Athan Sporek is great as the young Calogero, but Bobby Conte Thornton is equally good playing the character as an adult. As Calogero’s father, Richard H. Blake is extremely sympathetic, with a wonderful singing voice, and Ariana DeBose also shines as Jane, the girl that Calogero likes. Standing out the most, however, is Nick Cordero as the charismatic and sometimes frightening Sonny. Nick Cordero was last seen in a small part in last season’s musical “Waitress,” but he really comes into his own in “A Bronx Tale.” This actor is entirely believable as a mob boss and his acting and singing are topnotch. Even more so, Cordero casts a significant and multi-layered spell in the show and he will be hard to replace.
“A Bronx Tale-The Musical” is a fine adaptation of Chazz Palminteri’s play, with plenty of grittiness and heart. This musical is also quite moving and I found myself in tears by the conclusion. “A Bronx Tale” hardly seemed to be a good choice to be transformed into a musical, but the creators of this show have found a way to make it work. And, to paraphrase the song in the show, “One of the Great Ones,” if “A Bronx Tale” will never be considered one of the great musicals, it is still pretty darn good, nonetheless.
“A Bronx Tale” continues performances at the Longacre Theatre on Broadway. For tickets, please visit www.ABronxTaleTheMusical.com or call Telecharge at 212-239-6200.
Photo: L-R: Bobby Conte Thornton and Nick Cordero
Photo by Joan Marcus