BWW Interview: Brianna-Marie Bell of A BRONX TALE at Peace Center
We recently spoke to Brianna-Marie Bell, who plays Jane in the show. Bell last came through Greenville when she toured with Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. We asked her to tell us a little about herself, her role in A Bronx Tale and what memories she has of Greenville.
BWW: How long have you been with the tour?
I've been with the tour since the beginning. We were in rehearsals in September, we left in October. I was in the Broadway company for a year and I closed it down in August, then joined the tour when it started the next month.
BWW: Does the touring version feel much different to the Broadway version?
It's a little different. It's definitely Bronx Tale 2.0. The choreography is more advanced. Sergio [Trujillo, the show's choreographer] added so many things. I mean the song "Webster Avenue" is completely different, so is "I Like It." We spent a lot of time enhancing the choreography from the Broadway company.
BWW: Tell me a little about your background.
I'm from Cleveland. I did theatre starting when I was in fourth grade. And I was also in show choir for nine years, starting in fifth grade. Show choir was literally my life. I did competitions. I did pageants, also, because my mom wanted my confidence to build up a little bit - because I didn't have any confidence to save my life, honestly. And also for scholarship money for college. So I began to do pageants and for the talent portion I sang. And then I finally got a little bit of confidence under my shoulders and I went to AMDA [American Musical and Dramatic Academy] in New York for two years. And for our final showcase, the second year - I mean it's a four year course, but at that second year showcase some agents called me. I had to go in and audition for the agents and I started working for SW Artists. So I got an apartment for a year and then booked a tour right out of college. I thought, "I'm going to be on Broadway right away" but that didn't work out. [laughs]
BWW: What tour was it?
That was Flashdance the musical, and I played Kiki. At nineteen. Just wearing a bra and panties on stage. It was insane. And Sergio was choreographer, so that was the first time I worked for him. So then after that I took a little break. I did a cruise, I was lead vocalist on a cruise ship which was AMAZING. I went to Spain, Italy, Portugal, all through the mediterranean. And that's something I would have never done, because I couldn't afford it. So that was pretty incredible. After that I did Beautiful. I had a really big break in between that, which was a really hard moment. I was auditioning auditioning auditioning and I just could not get anything. It was terrible. I was sleeping on my friend's couch, and she was helping me with my sides for A Bronx Tale and I was like, "I've got to get this, it's Broadway." I go to church on Sunday and that morning I dropped my phone in the sink from doing the dishes. And someone at church asked how I was and what I do for my career. And I said, "Actually, I just booked a Broadway show, I'm going to be on Broadway." I was in church and I felt, apparently, the spirit moved me to say that. And that morning I get an email from my agent saying that I would be on Broadway. And she said, "I was trying to call you!" And I said, "I dropped my phone in the sink!" And that was A Bronx Tale.
BWW: Before that you toured in Beautiful. Did you come through Greenville on that tour?
I did! That was where I ended! I did it for six months and that was my last show. I was little Eva. I have a video of that performance from Greenville. The food in Greenville is incredible. I was at this place right down the street from the theatre and they had fried chicken skin and it's delicious. I'm very excited about going back there and having some more of that food!
BWW: Well, tell me a little about Bronx Tale.
On Broadway, I played Denise, not Jane. I was ensemble and I covered Jane, the principal role. So it's a coming of age show. Its about an Italian boy from the Bronx who's stuck between the dad he loves and an Italian mobster who is kind of like a father figure but he's so jaded and, you know, a mobster! But he's so intriguing to Calogero, who is the main character. It's really just about the choices that he makes through his life, going between the father he loves, and Sonny the mobster, and a black girl, named Jane, who he's not allowed to be with because in the sixties it was forbidden. His dad is like, "It's not right," and Sonny is like, "You love who you love, and so you should go for it." With me, it's more like a modern day Romeo and Juliet: "We're not supposed to be together but I really like you and maybe we should try it out." And it's definitely a family show, ages 13 and up because there are some gun shots.
BWW: Tell me a little more about Jane.
Jane is about to graduate high school and she's very smart, very independent, she has two girlfriends who are in her ears saying, "No, don't be with him, you're going to get in trouble, you're going to get hurt." You know back in the day they used to hurt black women for even looking at a white man. So her friends are really like "You've got to be careful." And Jane wants to be smart about the whole thing but she cant help how she feels. So Jane has to figure out how to maneuver around the sensitivity of the world and figure out - is it love or fear? You have to choose it, which one am I gonna do? It's a little intense!
BWW: What's the pivotal song for your character?
Definitely "In A World Like This" where basically, in the beginning of the song, a racist neighbor comes out and says, "Get out of here, you don't belong here," and Calogero is like, "Yes, you do belong here, you belong here with me, and I'm going to show everybody." So we start walking down the street while a whole bunch of people are watching us, and he makes it comfortable for me, to know that he has my back and that he's safe with me. And in a world like this, people are going to be negative, they're going to be nasty, but we're going to make a difference because who cares what they think. It's really beautiful and definitely one of my favorite moments in the show.
BWW: The show obviously has a lot of intensity and emotion to it, but i assume it also has some fun and spectacle, so tell us about that.
Oh yeah! We start the show with a huge dance number, "Belmont Avenue," on the Italian side of the Bronx. And we also have little Frankie Leoni who plays young Calogero, and he is so amazing, he's so talented. He could be on the Disney channel! His song is "I Like It" and he dances in a barber shop, he's playing around with a pool stick, twirling around and dancing - it's really fun. And "Webster Avenue" is a big stomp number that opens the second act, and that's really, really fun. I mean people are on their feet screaming by the end, already in the second act.
BWW: What other kind of responses have you been getting from audiences?
Everywhere they love it. They love it, whether they know the movie or not - and I kind of like it when they haven't seen the movie, because it makes them want to go home and watch it. But it also makes them want to go home and talk to their dad. My father watched it and he's not really much of a musical guy, but after he watched it he said, "I'm gonna go call my dad." And you hear that a lot, that people want to go call a family member. The responses are great, they're roaring at the top of act two, they're roaring at the end. It's really exciting and it makes me happy because I did the Broadway company, but with the tour I got to take a role and make it my own and then take it around the U.S. and teach people - teach people about love and about fear and about honesty and about your purpose in life. And that's really, really important because I feel like some people, even adults, are lost in their purpose, and it really makes me happy to be on that stage and to tell this story. It's a blessing.
Based on the critically acclaimed play that inspired the now classic film, this streetwise musical will take you to the stoops of the Bronx in the 1960s-where a young man is caught between the father he loves and the mob boss he'd love to be.
A Bronx Tale is directed by two-time Academy Award® winner Robert De Niro and four-time Tony Award® winner Jerry Zaks, written by Academy Award nominee Chazz Palminteri, with songs by eight-time Academy Award winner Alan Menken and three-time Tony Award nominee Glenn Slater, choreography by Tony nominee Sergio Trujillo, and produced by music mogul Tommy Mottola, The Dodgers (Jersey Boys, Matilda) and Tribeca Productions, and Evamere Entertainment.