Thursday, March 3, 2016

A Bronx Tale in Song

There is something exciting about seeing a world premiere of a new musical: a musical that is based on a film which was based on a one-man show. A Bronx Tale the Musical premiered at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey and brought in heavy hitters like Chazz Palminteri to write the book (as it is based on his play and film), Robert De Niro (from the film) to direct along side Jerry Zaks, and Alan Menkin and Glenn Slater to provide the music & lyrics.

I will admit that it's been a while since I saw the film so I didn't recall much about it. This story has been around since 1989 when Palminteri first started writing it as small monologues and performing it in LA. Based on an actual event when he saw a man killed right in front of him as a small boy, it is about family, relationships, racial tensions, and a certain part of New York in the 1960s. There is a sense of a throwback to old-time musicals with this production that feels very different from the current landscape of Hamilton and Fun Home. It is Jersey Boys meets West Side Story with a little Capeman and The Life thrown in. Yet it still manages to have a sense of self that feels new and fresh and completely entertaining. 

With a production team that includes Beowulf Boritt and William Ivey Long, this felt like a full Broadway show and I'm sure that's where this entire team hopes to head. I can definitely see it finding a home and audience in New York City. Menkin's score is period appropriate while one can always tell who's keyboard it came from. Slater's lyrics are crisp and well suited (though at times goes into the generic on some of the 'lesson' ballads). I did find myself bopping along to it and even humming a few as I left the theater. I read that Palminteri sees this piece as a fable the way Menkin has written so many Disney films and I see some of those archetype characters.


Jason Gotay as narrator splits the role of our young hero Calogero (think Hercules) with an amazing little boy, Joshua Colley. At the center of the story is Calogero's relationship with two men: his father played by the golden-voiced Richard H. Blake and mafia-man Sonny played wonderfully by Nick Cordero. Calogero has to see that his dad's job as a bus driver may not be as glamorous as a mafia man, but an important one just the same. 

Naturally this tale has many other characters and everyone is top notch in their roles. I found myself wishing it could focus in more on the core of the story and do away with a few subplots. For me, that is all that is missing in this piece. I want to feel Calogero's struggle between these two men. Perhaps giving the mom a little more to do would also enhance the story-line of family. Act 2 is jam-packed with so many actions/plot lines that the main struggle of our hero gets a little lost. It's there...it's just hidden in events that lead to the finale and I felt his journey became rushed. 

As a writer who works on adapting novels into screenplays, I see how hard it is to let go of certain moments and scenes I had previously written. Sometimes I feel like I'm telling a different story when I change mediums. But perhaps that's what we're meant to do. A Bronx Tale is a beautiful tribute to fathers and sons and maybe as the creative team continues to work and hone before bringing it to Broadway, they can focus that amazing story more so that all that heart is left on the floor by the end of the performance.

So glad I got to see it before it closes this weekend. Can't wait to watch the journey of this piece. 


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