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BWW Review: A BRONX TALE at Axelrod Performing Arts Center Portrays A Meaningful Story About Family Loyalty

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A Bronx Tale kicks off the Axelrod Performing Arts Center's 2021-2022 season!

BWW Review: A BRONX TALE at Axelrod Performing Arts Center Portrays A Meaningful Story About Family Loyalty
Mike Ferlita and the cast of "A Bronx Tale"
© Mark Krajnak | JerseyStyle Photography

The Axelrod Performing Arts Center welcomes audiences for the first time since the shutdown. A Bronx Tale: The Musical kicks off the theatre's 2021-2022 season. This production is directed by original Broadway cast member Richard H. Blake, who played the role of Lorenzo. A Bronx Tale is based on Oscar nominee Chazz Palminteri's real life story, which was adapted into a play and 1993 film. The show had its world premiere at Paper Mill Playhouse in 2016, and opened on Broadway later that year. A Bronx Tale had a two-year Broadway run and embarked on a national tour after it closed. The score features music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater.

Director Richard H. Blake's production of A Bronx Tale tells the story of a young boy named Calogero who is raised in the Bronx. He lives in the Italian-American neighborhood of Belmont Avenue in the 1960s, when a lot of crime and racism occurred. The nine-year-old boy befriends a mobster named Sonny, who takes him under his wing after covering up a murder. Young Calogero's father Lorenzo becomes upset with him for spending too much time with Sonny. He believes he's a bad influence on his son's life. When Calogero becomes a teenager, he is stuck between his father's positive values and Sonny's persuasive advice to forge his own path. A Bronx Tale teaches a lesson about family loyalty and maintaining a good reputation in a tight-knit neighborhood community.

BWW Review: A BRONX TALE at Axelrod Performing Arts Center Portrays A Meaningful Story About Family Loyalty
Mike Ferlita as Calogero in "A Bronx Tale"
© Mark Krajnak | JerseyStyle Photography

Mike Ferlita plays the lead role of Calogero, who narrates the musical. Ferlita's performance allowed the audience to see his true emotions throughout the show. The opening number, "Belmont Avenue '' presented Calogero's narrative to the audience and set the tone for the rest of the performance. Ferlita put his all into the song, "Hurt Someone," an intense scene in Act II where Calogero's friends threaten to harm someone he cares about. The Sayreville, New Jersey native proved to his hometown audience that he could do justice in telling Chazz Palminteri's story.

Hudson Koonce stars as the innocent and curious Young Calogero. Koonce has so much talent at such a young age, and it showed in this production. He shines in the songs, "Look To Your Heart," where Young Calogero learns life lessons from his father, and the upbeat, doo-wop tune "I Like It," when he shows the whole town that he's a new friend of Sonny's. Koonce may only be starting out in his career, but those who saw him in A Bronx Tale will be eager to see where his life takes him.

BWW Review: A BRONX TALE at Axelrod Performing Arts Center Portrays A Meaningful Story About Family Loyalty
Hudson Koonce as Young Calogero in "A Bronx Tale"
© Mark Krajnak | JerseyStyle Photography

Mike Backes and Emily Esposito play Calogero's parents, Lorenzo and Rosina. Backes had a standout moment with the character Calogero in the Act I finale, "These Streets." During this scene, Lorenzo reminds his son to not let his time with Sonny break up their family. The passionate duet with the two men was a hit, and summed up the main premise of the musical. Esposito had her own solo, "Look to Your Heart (Reprise)" reminding Calogero that his dad works hard as a bus driver to support his family. Her scenes brought a sense of calmness to the musical's chaotic storyline.

Mike Keller took on the role of the hardcore mobster, Sonny. Keller perfectly fit the part of an Italian-American leader of the mob, down to the New York accent, suit, and slick-back hair. He made his presence known in the comical song, "Roll 'Em," when Sonny teaches Young Calogero to gamble, and "Nicky Machiavelli," where he gives teenage Calogero advice about what to do with his life after high school. Keller had a softer side in the ballad, "One of the Great Ones." He tells Calogero to pursue a girl he has a crush on, even though Calogero fears that the neighborhood might judge him.

BWW Review: A BRONX TALE at Axelrod Performing Arts Center Portrays A Meaningful Story About Family Loyalty
Nashka Desrosiers and Mike Ferlita in "A Bronx Tale"
Nashka Desrosiers

Nashka Desrosiers is Calogero's classmate and love interest, Jane. Desrosiers beautifully sings the song, "Out of Your Head," which is a duet with Calogero. Jane and Calogero express how the two of them can't be together because of their race and living on opposite sides of the neighborhood. She delivers a solo reprise of the same song, which is equally as powerful. Desrosiers' character represents breaking racial stereotypes in the 1960s and doing what is right, regardless of how it upsets friends and family. The ensemble cast of A Bronx Tale added to the show as friends of Calogero and Sonny's, as well as residents from Belmont and Webster Avenues.

The creative team of A Bronx Tale shaped the musical into an incredible piece. Abbey O'Brien's choreography brought audiences right back to the 1960s, with groove and soul dance movements. Set designer Fred Sorrentino built a replicated version of Calgero's stoop in the Bronx, as well as Sonny's bar and the inside of Calogero's house. The costume design by Scaramouche Costumes of Chester, NJ resembled suits and outfits from the 1960s time period. The lighting and sound design by Cameron Filepas and Gerry Gironda set the scene for the tense environment of Belmont Avenue.

BWW Review: A BRONX TALE at Axelrod Performing Arts Center Portrays A Meaningful Story About Family Loyalty
Hudson Koonce and cast of "A Bronx Tale"
© Mark Krajnak | JerseyStyle Photography

All of these components are what make Axelrod Performing Arts Center's production of A Bronx Tale a great musical. This show takes viewers back in time and allows them to remember what it's like to see a live musical again. The production has catchy songs, amazing costumes, and a solid cast who portray a meaningful story. Now that the Axelrod has finally reopened, audiences should visit this venue for an enjoyable time at the theatre.

Tickets for A Bronx Tale can be purchased by calling 732-531-9106 ex.14 or by visiting the Axelrod Performing Arts Center website at https://www.axelrodartscenter.com/a-bronx-tale. The show will be performed in the Vogel Auditorium through November 14. The theatre is located at 100 Grant Avenue in Deal Park, NJ. For more information on Axelrod Performing Arts Center, you can follow them on Twitter and Instagram @axelrodarts or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/axelrodarts/.

Photo Credit: Mark Krajnak, JerseyStyle Photography


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