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Review: MAMBO ITALIANO at Westchester Broadway Theatre Is An Italian Feast for the Eyes and Ears

Review: MAMBO ITALIANO at Westchester Broadway Theatre Is An Italian Feast for the Eyes and Ears

[photo by John Vecchiolla]

Mambo Italiano, at Westchester Broadway Theatre (WBT) through Sept. 29, is an ambitious, musically-packed, and checkered affair, which also describes the motif of the stage floor and the tablecloths. (For tickets: (914) 592-2222;

Based on a Canadian movie, which in turn was based on an autobiographical play by Steve Galluccio, it tells the story of the Barbieris, a proud family of restaurateurs. It is set in 2000 in Hammonton, New Jersey.

As we see right away, in light-hearted style during the opening scenes, bombastic Barbieri matriarch Maria (Joy Hermalyn) and gentle patriarch Gino (Bill Nolte) are not unlike many a long-married couple who work together: when they're not lovey-dovey, they bicker with the best of them.

They are proprietors of Famiglia Italiana Ristorante, a name emblazoned high above the stage for the entire show.

Their grandchildren who live with them, siblings Angelo (Alex Drost) and Anna (Alexandra Amadeo Frost), are champing at the bit to cut the cord and strike out on their own in the world.

Love Festa

Anna is smitten with Nino Paventi (Zach Schanne), a childhood friend who's now a neighborhood policeman. Act I closes with a big bang, as Angelo announces he's not in love with the woman everyone assumed. He's in love with Nino, who outwardly denies he's anything other than heterosexual, even though he's expressed different sentiments privately to Angelo.

A friend of mine who saw the film version of Mambo Italiano told me that its plot line focused on the gay lovers. This musical rendition -- billed as a "world premiere" in hopes of finding its way to Manhattan -- mostly skirts the homosexual relationship in Act II. There is a total of one romantically-tinged scene between Angelo and Nino ("All I Need Is You").

Act II is akin to an antipasto platter of assorted flavors -- scenes play out in the restaurant, a dance club, a confessional, a courtroom -- as Maria and Gino try to save their restaurant from being wiped off the map by eminent domain.

Mambo Italiana is about family camaraderie. It's about being displaced by outside forces. It's about the younger generation breaking away from traditions and being caught between cultures old and new.

If those themes sound familiar to Broadway buffs, it's not a coincidence: even the show's marketing copy invokes Fiddler on the Roof. As if to put too fine a point on the homage to one of American musical theater's immortal works, the Act II opener, titled "The Dream," is a clone of one of Fiddler's signature numbers, "Tevye's Dream."

'This Is Such Fun!'

While some may see the depictions of Italian-American family life as broad and cliched, anyone who easily relates to the family on stage (regardless of ethnicity) will want to check this out. "This is such fun!" Dr. Jeffrey Schlotman, a White Plains dentist who is a veteran actor himself, said to me during the show. "It's much better than I expected."

The score is a veritable festa of music, verging on operetta at times with a constant flow of production numbers that also serve as narrative to advance the storyline. The musical variety ranges from lovely, touching ballads to love songs to serio-comic set pieces, such as "Mama's Cannelloni," in a very strong performance by the powerful voice and comic acting of Diana DiMarzio, as Nino's tough-as-nails mother Lina.

Joy Hermalyn as the fiercely passionate matriarch Maria brings down the house with her heartfelt singing of "Family," one of the show's musical highlights. Playing opposite her, baritone Bill Nolte proves quietly impressive in the sensitivity and vocal prowess he projects as Gino. A strong supporting performance is turned in by Natalie Gallo as Donna Lunetti.

There are some fleeting scatological references, but nothing that takes this out of the realm of fun family entertainment. Mambo Italiano is directed and choreographed by Tom Polum. Music is my James Olmstead, lyrics by Omri Schein, and book by Jean Cheever and Tom Polum.

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