BWW CD Review: A BRONX TALE (Original Broadway Cast Recording) is Entertaining, But Not Unforgettable
Ghostlight Records' recent release of A BRONX TALE (Original Broadway Cast Recording) perfectly captures the spirit of the Broadway show. The record sounds reminiscent of JERSEY BOYS with music and lyrics that pulsate with a heart that reminds listeners of HAIRSPRAY. The up-tempo tracks, enthusiastic performances, and pop and funk sounds of the 60s flood the album. This ensures audiences will be tapping their toes to the infectious beats, even if the songs don't stick to their ribs after the CD ends.
Overall, A BRONX TALE is charming piece of theater with an entertaining score. For me, the biggest draw is that the score is by famed musical theater composer Alan Menken. Unfortunately, his work on A BRONX TALE doesn't leave audiences with indelible earwigs like his other outings. Despite this, his work for the show is earnest and enjoyable. He weaves a multifaceted tapestry for this score, seamlessly blending 60s doo-wop sounds (like those featured in LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS), soulful gospel sounds (like those featured in SISTER ACT), and cathedral bells (like those featured in THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME). Menken's score is purposefully evocative of the story's geographic location, its era, and the devoutly Catholic culture of the central character.
Likewise, the album and show features Music Supervision and Arrangements by Ron Melrose (JERSEY BOYS), Orchestrations by Doug Besterman (three-time Tony Award winner, IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU, BULLETS OVER BROADWAY) and Musical Direction by Jonathan Smith (JERSEY BOYS), which at least justifies the comparisons to JERSEY BOYS that the score, story, and lyrics elicit.
Even though listeners may not walk away from the show or album humming the music, there are songs that will bring huge smiles to the faces of listeners. Bobby Conte, who narrates the production as Calogero, charms on tracks like "Belmont Avenue," "Out of Your Head," and "In A World Like This." As Young Calogero, Hudson Loverro's excitement, joy, and whimsy on "I Like It" is catching. Ariana DeBose, as Jane (Calogero's love interest) sings with tangible warmth on songs like "Out of Your Head," "Webster Avenue," and "In a World Like This."
Nick Cordero, as the mob boss Sonny, plays the man that Calogero wants to be. He encourages young Calogero on "Roll 'Em," teaching the young boy how to gamble and use luck to his advantage. He turns his character moment, "Nicky Machiavelli," into a beguiling treatise on how to kick love to the curb and harness fear to generate power. Like an expert snake oil salesman, Cordero enchants with his performance on "One of the Great Ones," as he urges Calogero to chase the girl he fancies because she may be one of three great loves in his life.
However, the true star of the album comes in form of Richard H. Blake as Lorenzo (Calogero's father). Engaged in a battle against Cordero's Sonny as Calogero's sense of family loyalty comes into direct conflict with his desires for wealth and power, Blake expertly deploys captivating emotion across his performances on the album. He sings "Look to Your Heart" with sincere love for his son. His "Giving Back the Money" is stern as he attempts to teach his son a valuable lesson. On "In a World like This," Blake's vocals are heartfelt and inspired. Likewise, Blake's heartbreak, fear, and anguish on "These Streets" is palpable and ultimately powerful. Truly, Blake's performance on this track is the album and the show's most memorable and resplendent moment.
A BRONX TALE (Original Broadway Cast Recording) clings to the lighter elements of Chazz Palminteri's original story. The danger and grit of a life in the mob are present, but they're muted and neutered by the production. Instead, Menken's score, Glenn Slater's lyrics, and the cast's performances emphasize the story of a young man being pulled between two disparate influential male figures in his life. He learns lessons from both, but his loyalty is clearly divided. Moreover, familial love is the show's central emotion, and other forms of love are peppered in; thus, the music is mostly cheerful. This lack of oomph-of substance, even-is what makes A BRONX TALE (Original Broadway Cast Recording) entertaining, but not unforgettable.
Ghostlight Records digitally released A BRONX TALE (Original Broadway Cast Recording) on March 24, 2017. It can be purchased from their webstore, iTunes, and Amazon. Physical copies of the album will be released on May 12.