The creative memory play by Chazz Palminteri, previously also a movie, has now yielded an entertaining musical version, with Palminteri providing the book, Alan Menken the music and Glenn Slater the lyrics. It is getting spiffy joint direction by Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks, and Sergio Trujillo has contributed striking choreography appropriate to the 1960-68 time frame and the Bronx milieu. A terrific cast brings the show alive with its humor and basic morality tale.
The show explodes with a great, creative opening sweep that sets the scene dramatically and musically. A group of Doo-Wop Guys sing near a lamppost, and Bobby Conte Thornton as Calogero reflects on the days when he grew up on Belmont Avenue in the Bronx. All in the same number, frames of buildings (scenic design by Beowulf Boritt) appear populated by local characters, and the number moves on to meet assorted types. It is an extremely vibrant introduction, and the musical proceeds from there, following the source from which the show has been adapted.
We soon see Calogero as a nine-year-old portrayed by Hudson Loverro. He sees a shooting by the local crime boss Sonny, acted by Nick Cordero in one of the musical’s best and most entertaining performances. Young Calogero has the good sense to keep mum when questioned, and for his refusal to be a squealer, he is taken under the wing of Sonny. Loverro does a winsome acting job as the boy, both as an actor and singer. A sure audience pleaser, Loverro, on the night I saw the show, acted extra triumphant at the curtain all, a kid aware of how good he is.
The Sonny-Calogero relationship sets up the moral issue. Calogero’s hard working bus driver father Lorenzo (Richard H. Blake) tries to shield his son from Sonny’s world of crime, but Calogero is blinded by his affection for Sonny and the benefits the relationship brings, as well as the dangers. When he grows up, Calogero falls for an African-American, Jane (Ariana DeBose), and their love for one another is entangled in a sort of Romeo and Juliet conflict between Italian and African-American warfare. Calogero and Jane, backed by the ensemble, ultimately have a powerful duet, “In a World Like This.”
As with many musicals, working out the plot and the issues involved intrudes upon the show’s most entertaining elements, which provide fun for an audience. Sonny and his cronies, who have such names as JoJo the Whale, Frankie Coffeecake and Tony-Ten-To-Two, contribute ample laughter, and the song and dance numbers make “A Bronx Tale” delightfully colorful. For all his sinister behavior, Sonny is entertaining in scenes such as when he advises Cologero how to test a girl to see if she can be “one of the great ones” encountered in life. The comedy payoff comes when Jane passes the test.
Thus, despite a few heavy-handed plot moments, the staging, acting and Palminteri’s take on the character assortment make “A Bronx Tale” delightful in its new incarnation. At the Longacre Theatre, 220 West 48th Street Phone: 212-249-6200 Reviewed December 8, 2016.