BWW Review: A BRONX TALE Hits a Grand Slam At The Straz Center
A BRONX TALE is a musical adapted from a film that was once a one man show written by Chazz Palminteri. The Broadway Smash premiered with previews on November 3, 2016, and officially opened December 1, 2016 at the Longacre Theatre. Launching its North American Tour in the Fall of 2018 the musical features music written by Alan Menken, with lyrics by Glenn Slater and book written by the original one man show stopper Chazz Palminteri. While on its tour stop in Tampa at the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, we as the opening-night audience were truly thrust into Old City New York full of Mobsters and Italian lessons to boot.
Only having a once fleeting encounter with the film version out in 1993 and starring Palminteri and everyone's favorite New England Bad Guy Robert DeNiro, to my surprise the Musical version directed by Robert DeNiro and Jerry Zaks allowed those of us familiar with growing up, or even experiencing the culture that comes with living in the Big Apple to be wrapped in a warm blanket and welcomed in as a part of the family. Kudos to the Brilliant Orchestrations by Doug Besterman and expertly conducted by Noah Landis the audience had a rousing good time, moving and grooving with every tune, like something out of an old jukebox, that familiar song that stirs the party every time it comes on.
Set to a backdrop of an Apartment normally found in boroughs of the Apple, the cast flawlessly maneuvered every intricate piece of Choreography like a well-oiled machine. It was as if an elevator/train, or subway car took off and everyone was swept aboard amongst the energy. The brilliant Choreography by Sergio Trujillo literally seemed to burst off of the stage from backflips to pirouettes, to a handspring landing in the splits, this cast was truly head over heels in all the major dance numbers.
Costume design by William Ivey-Long and Hair and Makeup by Paul Huntley, and Anne Ford-Coates had many of us looking in the mirror so to speak at our youth, and seeing ourselves in a majority of the characters. Again like an old family we grew up with, we found ourselves invested in the plight of each character and the true form of the Human Condition that poured out of each and every actor.
In its original form A Bronx Tale was a one-man show written, directed, and performed by Paliminteri in 1989 in Los Angeles. Originally Paliminteri didn't want to sell his story to Hollywood. However, when Robert DeNiro comes knocking the rest becomes history. The pair then later teamed up to write the musical audiences at the Straz Center and around the numerous tour stops will see, feel, believe, and experience as if we grew up in the streets of New York and Belmont, AVE. Featuring a rousing 19 musical numbers, 27 Actors/Actresses making up the Company, A Bronx Tale swung for the fences in a big way.
Paliminteri started in his early days as a singer in a DOO-WOP group, which is beautifully interpreted in this production as a backdrop to Old New York. Expertly placed to allow scene changes to seem effortless, the singers in the DOO-WOP also portrayed influential characters within Calogero's life. From the moment the cast graced the stage, the audience was immersed in the culture, in the music, and the story as Calogero beautifully played by Joey Barreiro walked us through his life from the early age of 9 to early adulthood and everything that formed him into the man he was meant to become.
In his early years Young Calogero played with the upmost professionalism by Frankie Leoni witnesses a murder and is forced to participate in a line-up. Knowing good and well Italians don't snitch; Calogero crosses paths with Sonny the most-feared mobster on Belmont, AVE. After tossing subtleties back and forth about whether or not Jo-DiMaggio or Mickey Mantle were the better ball players, Sonny decides to take Calogero under his wing, and nicknames him "C." Commanding the stage and truly being the one to watch Frankie Leoni sang, "I LIKE IT" to the point where I was literally breathless, with such tremendous power in someone of his age he danced and sang larger than life on such a big stage and truly deserves mentioning. As any Italian ne'er do well, Calogero's father instills a little wisdom on his son, "The saddest thing in life is wasted talent," which as an audience we soon notice this becoming a reoccurring lesson or mantra that Calogero grows to live by.
The direction of the show then transported the audience into a bar known as the bar in which Sonny and his goons had nightly hang outs, and taught manners to those who crossed their paths. Highlighting each man in the scene through lighting and a camera shutter, it bookended as the men in the original line-up that Calogero was put through, and we see why the first initial scene was so important in young Calogero's life. Through quips and jabs, we learn of Calogero's strict Italian up-bringing, and the audience roared in laughter when the boy's father said such things as, "It's not funny when your 9 year old son has a bigger bank account than you do."
When Calogero becomes a teen, we see him meet a girl at school, Jane, beautifully played by Brianna-Marie Bell. Brianna's powerhouse vocals are to be treasured and revered of any Broadway veteran her senior, and she truly captivates each note with effortless grace. Only one problem, Calogero is a white man, and Jane is an African American woman, and we are watching this all unfold in the middle of the backdrop of 1968. Through beautiful duets, and heartbreaking scenes where as the audience we pine for them to be together, we get an almost Romeo &Juliet, Tony &Maria classification in which two unrequited lovers are meant to be together, yet so much keeps them apart. Through brilliantly executed songs such as, "These Streets" in which Lorenzo, Calogero's Father Laments to his son, with his strong and almost heartbreaking notes, we witness a true father's love, and the ultimate realization of his son's corruption.
Act 2 barrels on just as fast and smooth as Act 1 in this seamlessly beautiful and timeless tale. Jane and the female ensemble are so strong vocally; you truly feel two different sides clashing and coming together to show that through love anything can be overcome. The comedic timing between the girls allowed us as the audience to take a step back, and we truly laughed as if we were at a family gathering. When Calogero, lets Sonny know he met a girl, more comedic timing ensues. This occurs until "C" tells Sonny the girl he met is black. Then Sonny says one of the most sobering comments, as if a Father was talking to his son, "This neighborhood has one big-personality, and a bunch of heads mashed together. You gotta do what your heart wants to do." Calogero and Jane have a beautiful moment in Act 2 that is almost reminiscent of "Almost Paradise" when the two sing "In a World like This" and my heart ached for the two lovers.
Through beautiful choreography, costumes, sets, songs, and more we are enveloped in Old New York. Through old-fashioned family values we learn all there is to know about love, race, family, values, morals, humility, and how to embrace the divide between heartache and tenderness. Sonny's test works for Calogero, and "C" says to Jane, "In a world like this I got you!" One moment in Act 2 I was left completely stunned, to a point where as an audience you could hear a pin-drop. Sonny always says, "Live by love or fear, never black or white, just shades of grey." As the audience left Morsani Hall at the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday night, one Old Italian lesson rang in our ears, "The saddest thing in life is wasted talent, and the choices you make will shape your life forever!"
After all this is, "Just another Bronx Tale," but one tale as an audience member, and as a human you should not miss. For it's the heartbeat you will find that lives in us all.
PHOTO CRED: DAVID A. STRAZ, JR. CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS