Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham
A Bronx Tale
Based on the semi-autobiographical one-man show written and performed Off-Broadway by Chazz Palminteri in 1989 (then on Broadway in a 2007 revival) and adapted into a film also starring Mr. Palminteri in 1993, A Bronx Tale tells the story of Calogero Anello, whom we meet first as a boy (portrayed in the performance I attended by an amazing Anthony Gianni Cipolla). After Calogero witnesses a crime carried out by neighborhood mobster Sonny (a fantastic Jeff Brooks), he refuses to rat Sonny out and becomes a kind of surrogate son to the gangster, much to the chagrin of his parents, Lorenzo and Rosina (the talented Nick Fradiani and Stefanie Londino).
Growing up under Sonny's protection and attention, teenage Calogero (performed masterfully by Alec Nevin) sees all too clearly the trade-off between the standard life of his bus-driving father and the flashier but riskier life of a gangster. Along the way, a slightly awkward subplot emerges, as Calogero falls in love with Jane (the beautiful Kayla Jenerson), a black girl from the segregated neighborhood on the other side of their school. While lovely, Jane might be here primarily to add a feminine touch to a story that would otherwise be almost completely male-dominated.
The original musical was steered by two men who are well known in their fields: Broadway veteran Jerry Zaks and Robert De Niro, who had already directed the film adaptation. Mr. De Niro's contribution seems to have been the preservation of the authenticity of the original story, from hand gestures to street corner politics. For Mr. Zaks the main task was to translate that story into something that would work on the musical stage. (This tour is directed by Stephen Edlund.) Beowulf Boritt's dancing fire escapes are a simple yet effective set, with Howell Binkley's lighting and Gareth Owen's sound designs filling in place and mood. Lively choreography from Sergio Trujillo is re-created here by Brittany Conigatti, and is one of the highlights of the production.
One of the more frequent names appearing on Broadway marquees of late has been composer Alan Menken, who provides the music for this adaptation with Glenn Slater's lyrics. Menken and Slater previously collaborated on other stage adaptations of other popular films such as Leap of Faith and Sister Act. This score brings Mr. Menken back to his days of doo-wop, reminiscent of his first big musical success, Little Shop of Horrors. And though this score serves the book well (in fact a good deal of the show is sung, with little of the book spoken), none of the songs are likely to linger with the audience afterward.
Clocking in at just two hours, A Bronx Tale feels a bit rushed. It might have been stretched out a bit to give the characters more opportunities to develop an emotional investment with the audience (no offense to this uniformly strong cast, who make the most of what they have). The intentions are good, but there may be too much concern about authentically telling the original story, and and not enough about making the best use of musical theater's ingredients to move us. Nonetheless, if you are content to have "the usual," this musical will satisfy.
Presented by SunTrust Broadway, A Bronx Tale runs through November 10, 2019, at Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St., Durham NC. Tickets can be purchased online at www.dpacnc.com, www.ticketmaster.com, at the Ticket Center at DPAC in person, or by phone at 919-680-2787.
Music: Alan Menken