BWW Review: A BRONX TALE National Tour
Audiences might be familiar with the 1993 film, "A Bronx Tale," which was directed by and starred Robert De Niro. It's the tale of a young man growing up in the Bronx in the 1960s who is torn between his father and the Mafia boss who takes him under his wing. The film also featured its writer, Chazz Palminteri, and was based on his one-man play of the same name. The musical A BRONX TALE was adapted by Palminteri from that play over the course of a decade and opened on Broadway in 2016. It is this production that is at DPAC this week, as a stop on its second national tour.
The show is actually loosely based on Palminteri's own life. It features music by Alan Menken, who is largely known for his work on Disney films, and lyrics by Glenn Slater. It takes place in 1960 and 1968 and follows a young Italian-American boy named Calogero who becomes involved with the local mob boss Sonny, much to his bus driver father Lorenzo's dismay.
The show also delves into the divide between the Italian-Americans and blacks living in the Bronx and features a love story between Calogero and a black classmate of his named Jane. This romance plot line feels a bit underdeveloped, but it's clearly secondary to the more important father-son dynamics that take center stage. The musical explores themes of family, friendship, dreams, love, and ambition to rise above your circumstances; there is clearly something in it that everyone can connect to.
The musical was directed on Broadway by De Niro, the director of the film, and Jerry Zaks, the director of the play. Tour direction has been provided by Stephen Edlund. It is clear that while this show is very much tied to New York, it has a lot to offer audiences across the country. From the beautiful harmonies of the doo-wop guys to the jokes about Italian-Americans, it is a crowd-pleaser. It does contain some violence and coarse language so it's not appropriate for younger children, but otherwise seems like a great show to go see as a family.
The music is largely 1960s doo-wop inspired. The love song called "Out of Your Head," which is reprised several times, is a clear highlight of the score. Sonny's songs, including the upbeat "Roll 'Em" and "Nicky Machiavelli" and the more heartfelt "One of the Great Ones," are equally great. There is even a baseball song - something that's becoming a bit of its own genre between shows like "Ragtime" and "Dear Evan Hansen" - called "Look to Your Heart" that is a sweet moment between young Calogero and his father, Lorenzo.
Alec Nevin easily carries the role of Calogero with his boyish good looks, charisma, and great voice. Trey Murphy is adorable and precocious as the younger version of the protagonist and his big number, "I Like It," showcases his impressive voice. Jeff Brooks has great stage presence as the mob boss, Sonny, and deftly walks the line between intimidating and charming. American Idol winner Nick Fradiani plays Calogero's father, Lorenzo, and proves that he has a nice voice and (perhaps surprisingly) solid acting.
Kayla Jenerson provides the strongest voice in the cast as Jane and lends a sweetness to the role. Tyler Dema Brett Pederson, Rhys Williams, and Benjamin Sears produce lovely harmonies as the four doo-wop guys. Dema, Sears, and Williams also play Calogero's friends and do a good job of providing each one with a distinct personality despite their limited stage time. Both Dema and ensemble member Breia Kelley graduated from Elon University here in North Carolina this past summer; Kelley is originally from Durham, so it's great to see her return in this show.
One of the show's strongest points is its choreography. The original choreography for the show is by Sergio Trujillo, who won the Tony Award for Best Choreography last year for AIN'T TOO PROUD, and it has been recreated by Brittany Conigatti for the tour. The show is full of energetic movement, with lifts, jumps, and sassy hip shakes. Act II opens with a great step number called "Webster Avenue." The choreography does a great job of differentiating between the two groups of people, the Italian-Americans and the blacks, and creating contrast.
William Ivey Long's costume design is appropriately fun and 1960s-esque. The sets, designed by Beowulf Boritt, are simple but effective and well suited to a show on the road. The lighting design by Howell Binkley has some particularly good moments. The lighting effects to seem like mug shot photos being taken when the members of Sonny's crew are introduced is particularly inventive.
A Bronx Tale will appeal to all types of people and keep you engaged for every minute. It has danger, excitement, and romance all wrapped up in a coming-of-age story. I took my dad with me to see it and I think he may have enjoyed it even more than I did. A Bronx Tale is playing at DPAC until November 10. You can find more information about it here.
You can read my interview with Tyler Dema who plays Crazy Mario here.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus