Robert De Niro and Chazz Palminteri return to the story that spawned the 1993 film A Bronx Tale and became De Niro’s directorial debut. Based on an autobiographical one-man show by Palminteri, the new musical A Bronx Tale is sure to please fans of the movie. With music by Broadway legend Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater, and co-directed by De Niro and Tony Award winner Jerry Zaks, A Bronx Tale is an unabashed love letter to the eponymous borough.
The plot hews close to that of the film. Bobby Conte Thornton plays Calogero, a grown man reflecting on his childhood growing up in the Bronx in the 1960s, on the predominantly Italian Belmont Avenue. After witnessing local mobster, Sonny (Nick Cordero doing his best wiseguy), shoot a man dead in front of his house, Calogero forms a bond with Sonny by not ratting him out to the police. As eight-year-old Calogero, Hudson Loverro has the ability to be both tough and vulnerable. When the storyline jumps eight years, Thornton continues that sensibility as 16-year-old Calogero, now nicknamed C by Sonny.
Broadway veteran Richard H. Blake is terrific as Lorenzo, C’s bus driving father, who is proud of his earning an honest living, making it clear he wants nothing to do with Sonny’s business. As C’s mother, Rosina, Lucia Giannetta gives the role more than just the stereotypical Italian mother shown in popular culture. She is warm and strong at the same time, a dutiful wife who can also put Lorenzo in his place.
Lorenzo is insistent that C stay away from Sonny’s gang, which includes such unsavory characters as Eddie Mush (Jonathan Brody), JoJo the Whale (Michael Barra), Frankie Coffeecake (Ted Brunetti) and Tony-Ten-To-Two (Paul Salvatoriello). But it’s too late; C is already captivated by Sonny’s charm, the excitement of his lifestyle and the prospect of making heaps of cash. As Sonny becomes more of a father figure to C, the story becomes a sort of battle over C’s loyalty.
Predominantly African-American Webster Avenue is where C’s classmate Jane (the luminous Ariana DeBose) and her brother Tyrone (Bradley Gibson) reside. While they only live a few blocks apart, C and Jane might as well live in different worlds. Racial tensions abound, yet sparks fly when the two meet at their shared high school. In a very West Side Story parallel plot, the young lovers worry about what their respective friends and families will think if they are seen together.
Menken returns to his Little Shop of Horrors roots with a fun doo-wop score, complete with a quartet (Rory Max Kaplan, Dominic Nolfi, Cary Tedder, and Keith White) that follows the story along. The energetic choreography, by Sergio Trujillo (On Your Feet!), is some of the best on Broadway right now. A hip-hop step dance that opens the second act and performed by Jane, Tyrone and their friends is particularly exciting. The clever set design (Beowulf Boritt), made up of fire escapes that move and turn, and costumes (William Ivey Long) are all evocative of the 1960s time period.
The best commendation of A Bronx Tale is its refusal to take a side with either Sonny or Lorenzo and, by that design, is neither a scathing takedown of organized crime nor a glamorization of it. Both men are portrayed sympathetically and both men clearly have their own flaws. For a show that is all about one boy’s aspiration to be a gangster, the lifestyle is depicted as horrific as it is seductive.