BWW Review: A BRONX TALE is Catchy and Compelling
If you're like me, there's probably a lot you didn't know about A Bronx Tale before settling into your seat. Like how it's based on a movie--which was a bit of a passion project for actor Chazz Palminteri, who performed his semi-autobiographical story as a touring one-man show that made its way through Denver nearly a decade ago.
Or how the stage musical is co-directed by Robert De Niro (yeah, that one), who made his directorial debut with the movie back in 1993. Alongside him is Broadway favorite Jerry Zaks, whose 2017 production of Hello, Dolly! won a Tony for Best Revival of a Musical. The music is by legendary Alan Menken, who's joined by frequent collaborator and fellow Grammy winner Glenn Slater.
And chances are, you probably didn't know how great of a show it is.
A Bronx Tale launched its tour, which features several Broadway cast members, after 700 performances on the Great White Way. It centers around a section of the Bronx in the 1960s, specifically Belmont Avenue, where Young Calogero (Frankie Leoni) witnesses a murder committed by neighborhood mobster Sonny (Joe Barbara). But Colagero isn't a snitch, and Sonny takes him under his wing--against the wishes of Colagero's parents, Lorenzo (Richard H. Blake) and Rosina (Michelle Aravena)--teaching him lessons in strength and street smarts.
The musical follows Colagero from childhood through his teen years (where he's portrayed by Joey Barreiro), when he falls for his classmate Jane (Brianna-Marie Bell), a black girl from a different neighborhood. In a bit of a Romeo and Juliet fashion, the two immediately find friction between their collective cultures. But don't mistake the story for classic mob fare-it delves into more a of domestic approach, celebrating the culture and vibrancy of New York boroughs and their residents.
While the book is both captivating and heartfelt, it's Menken's music that's a standout of the show. Its catchy bops are reminiscent of Menken's classic Little Shop of Horrors, and songs like opener "Belmont Avenue" and "I Like It" (led by vivacious young Leoni) will keep your toes tapping. The music lends itself to by Sergio Trujillo's choreography, which brings vibes similar to West Side Story.
In fact, A Bronx Tale settles well into the collection of other musicals that explore big city grit. It's both honest and heartfelt, giving a voice to the unique Italian culture developed in that area. The diverse mix of performers, while not rare for the neighborhoods where the show is based, is revitalizing to see in a stage production that brings their history to life.
A Bronx Tale plays the Buell Theatre at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts through Jan 20. Tickets and more info at DenverCenter.org
Photos by Joan Marcus