BWW Review: A BRONX TALE at Bass Performance Hall
If it's possible to be nostalgic for a time and place in which you've never lived, you will experience that feeling in A Bronx Tale. Taking place in the Belmont neighborhood of The Bronx in the 1960s, this show centers around the life of Calogero (or "C"), a boy of Italian descent who grows up currying favor with Sonny, the local mafia leader and defender of Belmont. Conflict ensues when Calogero's father, a beloved and law-abiding working man, challenges Sonny and tries to remove his son's exposure to this powerful character- but to no avail. A Bronx Tale explores racial tensions in the 60's as well as the difference between being loved and feared.
The production quality of this show couldn't have been better. Each company dance number was tight and bursting with energy. The vocalists were strong, and each actor incorporated a believable Bronx accent, creating an atmosphere that felt like a cross between Jersey Boys and The Godfather. The "Doo-Wop" Guys (Sean Bell, Joshua Michael Burrage, Giovanni DiGabriele, Alex Dorf) created a veritable Greek chorus of Frankie Vallis that snapped their way across stage in upbeat company songs.
The show opens with (adult) Calogero, played by Joey Barreiro, addressing the audience. Optimistic and earnest, Barriero captured his character's tough guy exterior, Mama's-boy at heart attitude. A great dancer and a killer vocalist, Barriero rocked the house. No performance was as gripping as Joe Barbara's Sonny, though. His relaxed gait, slicked back hair, ability to control a room with his tone almost made you think he was a real life mobster. His role was expertly cast. Barbara's performance throughout the show revealed that there's more to meets the eye when it comes to our ideas of good guys and bad guys- everyone is complicated, and everyone has their own story. Sure, Sonny's attitude towards working people and the law are despicable- but can a man who protects his neighborhood, friends, and a young boy really be a scoundrel? Barbara confidently painted that nuanced picture.
Though nearly every actor in a National Tour will have an exceptional voice, Calogero's father Lorenzo (Richard H. Blake) showed himself to be a particularly strong singer, something that became clear as he dominated the end of Act I in These Streets. Lorenzo's wife, Rosina, was played by the lovely Michelle Aravena. Though plenty tough herself, her nurturing spirit balanced out her husband's quickness to anger.
Brianna-Marie Bell's performance as Jane Williams came in like a lamb, and out like a lion. Saccharine sweet at the outset, her booming voice exploded onto the stage in Webster Avenue. Though Jane's character lacked a depth that was achieved in others, Bell did well in portraying this ambitious young woman with a conflicted heart.
Stealing the show- especially when he rolled the dice in Roll 'Em- the young Calogero was portrayed by the charming and energetic Shane Pry. His performance was fun to watch at every turn, full of attitude, spunk, and of course- "heart." Pry earnestly helped capture the conflict between him, his father, and Sonny.
Sonny's entourage was made up of a motley crew of tough guys and ne'er-do-wells. Each was a character and added their own color to the show, including Rudy the Voice, Eddie Mush, Frankie Coffeecake, JoJo the Whale, and Tony 10 to 2 (John Gardiner, Mike Backes, Robert Pieranuzi, Michael Barra, and Paul Salvatoriello, respectively). The same can be said for the gang with whom adult Calogero spends his teen years, Sally Slick, Handsome Nick, and Crazy Mario (Sean Bell, Giovanni DeGabriele, and Alex Dorf). The entire crew added some much needed comic relief and drew laughter from the audience all night.
The set of A Bronx Tale was fabulous. Awnings, lampposts, and the stoops of brownstones filled the set in the scenes on Belmont. Set pieces were seamlessly rearranged for moments in the bar, near the school, or on Webster Avenue. Fire escapes were occasionally used to show Calogero's parents sharing a moment or having a flashback to their youth. Most impressive was the car used by Calogero's friends toward the end, as it slowly rolled towards the audience in the dramatic number Hurt Someone. The lighting completed the picture of these tough New York streets, with cooler hues illuminating the set on Belmont, and a deep red providing a sense of urgency and danger as the drama unfolded.
The costumes for this show were perfect for the time period. The tough guys wore fedoras and jackets, the girls either wore full skirts or tight pants with belts around the waist. For the men, the hair was predictably slicked back.
Filled with equal parts drama and humor, the plot of A Bronx Tale leaves something to be desired. There was no final reconciliation between Calogero and his father, and the newfound relationship between Calogero and Jane was somewhat dismissed in the closing monologue. In other words, the ending was rushed. Though the show technically goes out with a bang, it felt like more of a whimper. Nevertheless, the cast hit it out of the park and was the reason A Bronx Tale was so enjoyable.
Catch this musical at Bass Performance Hall in Ft. Worth, running through July 28th. More information and tickets can be found here.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus