The tale of this young boy’s life in the Bronx has been presented in many forms: An autobiographical one-man show, a critically-acclaimed 1993 film and now, a Broadway musical.
Although this musical isn’t particularly groundbreaking, it’s fun, which sometimes Broadway musicals just need to be. Aptly promoted as a mix between Jersey Boys and West Side Story, A Bronx Tale hits on classical Broadway tropes to mostly positive results. Opening with four Italian men singing under a lone street-lamp sometime in the 1960s, the older Calogero (Bobby Conte Thornton in his Broadway debut) begins narrating his early-life story, which no doubt throws back to the solo show written by book writer Chazz Palminteri.
In both the 1993 movie and Broadway musical, both of which Robert De Niro directed, the show is set on Belmont Avenue in the Bronx. A young Calogero (Hudson Loverro in his Broadway debut) is like any other young boy. He loves the New York Yankees and has an obsession with Mickey Mantle. His father, Lorenzo (Richard H. Blake), is a bus driver who plays by the straight-and-narrow—except when local mob boss Sonny (Nick Cordero, who is the perfect mix of scary and charismatic) shoots and kills a man right in front of Calogero’s porch.
At the behest of his frightened parents, Calogero lies and doesn’t identify the murderer, which earns him Sonny’s eternal gratitude. Sonny takes the boy under his wing, shortens his name to C, and shows him the glamorous life of the underworld. After Sonny lets C have some money from a dice game, C dons a leather jacket (which his teenage version also sports later) and starts spending all of his time at Sonny’s club. Hudson Loverro brings lots of energy and charisma to young C, especially in “I Like It,” in which C sings about being Sonny’s mentee. Unfortunately for young C, his father finds his money stash later and the battle between who will shape C’s worldview begins.
As young C turns into just C (Bobby Conte Thornton), this teenager has his own gang of thugs and a strained relationship with his father. C’s hero worship of Sonny is at a whole new level, turning a blind eye to the violent side of Sonny’s business. But everything changes when he meets a girl on the wrong avenue.
Like most teenagers, C falls head-over-heels in love at first glance. He is sure that this African American girl, Jane, is the love of his life. Now, he has to decide how many risks he’s going to take to be with her, and ultimately decide what kind of man he is.
This romantic subplot seems haphazardly worked in and doesn’t quite get enough time to flourish in A Bronx Tale. But Ariana DeBose really shines in “Out of My Head” and “Webster Avenue.”
Although there are ballads aplenty, A Bronx Tale is best during its ensemble numbers, such as “Ain’t It the Truth” and “Roll ‘Em.” It’s at its worst when composer Alan Menken (known for Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid) and lyricist Glenn Slater ply on the sentimentality. Certain songs are way too cheesy and seem old-fashioned in a bad way, but the fun characters and unexpected plot twists, which go against the conventions of many mob movies, show why this tale continues to take on new forms 26 years later.
Director: Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks
Book: Chazz Palminteri
Music: Alan Menken
Lyrics: Glenn Slater
Starring: Nick Cordero, Richard H. Blake, Bobby Conte Thornton, Ariana DeBose, Lucia Giannetta, Bradley Gibson and Hudson Loverro
Alicia Kort is Paste’s Theatre Editor.