Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

A Bronx Tale
National Tour
Review by Mark Horning | Season Schedule

Also see Mark's coverage of All City Musical


The Cast
Photo by Joan Marcus
For regular attendees of the KeyBank Broadway Series at Playhouse Square in Cleveland A Bronx Tale looks to be one of those marginal musicals that patrons have to make a concerted decision to attend. Advertised as '"I>Jersey Boys meets West Side Story," it's your typical fare set in the 1950s and '60s in the stereotypical tough Italian neighborhood in New York that is filled with delightful singing and dancing gangsters with perfect vocal harmony.

The musical is an expanded version of the 1989 autobiographical one man show written and performed by Chazz Palminteri (who made an appearance opening night during the curtain call) that later became a film in 1993. The Broadway musical had a decent enough run (28 previews and 700 performances) but with nary a Tony nomination. So why should the people of Cleveland spend their hard earned money to see it?

Although the show is highly predicable and borderline sophomoric, the cast of this touring production manages to squeeze every drop of pizzazz out of what could have been a long sit.

Calogero Lorenzo Alfredo Romano Anello (Joey Barreiro) is growing up at 187th and Belmont Avenue in the Bronx. He lives with his hard-working and honest bus driving father Lorenzo (Richard H. Blake) and his very protective mother Rosina (Michelle Aravena). At the tender age of 10 he witnesses a fatal shooting as neighborhood tough guy Sonny (Joe Barbara) defends a friend and the neighborhood from a "foreign intrusion."

Young Calogero admits to the cops that "he saw it all," but when facing the line-up of Sonny and his gang tells the police that none of them was involved in the shooting. "Little C," as Sonny now calls him, is allowed to hang with the gang, receiving all of the free perks the neighborhood has to offer. At the local crap game, Sonny finds that Little C is a lucky charm of sorts and has him roll the dice, making point after point.

Over the course of the next few weeks, Little C rakes in $1,200, which his father finds in his room, then returns to Sonny, hoping to break the bond between the young man and the gangster.

Fast forward ten years and Little C is still running with the likes of Rudy The Voice (John Gardiner), Eddie Mush (Mike Backes), JoJo the Whale (Michael Barra), Frankie Coffeecake (Robert Pieranunzi), and Tony Ten-To-Two (Paul Salvatoriello).

New York City at this time is divided into ethnic enclaves such as Harlem with African Americans, Manhattan's Chinatown with Chinese Americans, Brooklyn for Irish Americans, and Queens for Eastern European and Russian Americans among others. Neighbors watch after neighbors and one could take his life in his own hands when venturing onto another turf.

Calogero is living the dream until he falls in love with a black girl from Harlem. Those who care for him have no trouble respecting his choice, but it is the rest of the neighborhood he has to worry about. Tempers begin to flare when two blacks decide to take a shortcut through the Bronx. Soon an undeclared war is set to break out as Little C must figure out his true loyalties.

Yes, the show is highly predictable with one-dimensional characters. There are no hum-as-you-leave songs or memorable dance routines. In short, it is like a lot of shows we have seen before...except—the cast is brilliant. Joe Barbara is perfect as as Sonny, the "hard as nails with a heart of gold" thug who becomes Little C's uncle figure. His gang is a collection of well-meaning misfits who hold allegiance to their boss so long as it suits them. Young and dashing Joey Barreiro as the older Calogero has the right mix of naivete and bravado, and he has with an excellent tenor singing voice. Richard H. Blake and Michelle Aravena as Little C's parents work hard not to overplay their parts. Brianna-Marie Bell as love interest Jane adds much to the chemistry on stage between Jane and Calogero. Their relationship is electric and wholly believable. The only disputed role is Shane Pry as young Calogero, looking and acting more like a short adult than a kid, and taking a bit of the believability factor from the role.

As for Beowulf Boritt's wonderful sets, they are many layered, fully functional, and a delight. The subtle blending of color married to the lighting design by Howell Binkley is spot on and sets the proper mood. William Ivey Long handles the costume design with aplomb with all the necessary little details taken care of splendidly. The show is directed by Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks.

For this touring production of A Bronx Tale, it is all about the cast, who manage to wring every bit of emotion from what otherwise could have been a pretty dry show. It's well worth the ticket price to see this one.

A Bronx Tale, through May 12, 2019, in the Ohio Theatre, Playhouse Square, 1511 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland OH. For tickets call 216-241-6000, visit www.playhousesquare.org, or stop by the Playhouse Square ticket office located in the outer lobby of the State Theatre. For more information on the tour, visit abronxtalethemusical.com/tour/.


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