‘A Bronx Tale’ doesn’t quite deliver
Three familiar stories make up the plot of “A Bronx Tale,” a musical brought to the stage by Hollywood wise-guy Chazz Palminteri. The first is essentially “Romeo and Juliet” — with our hero Calogero (Joey Berreiro) falling for a black girl from the wrong neighborhood.
The second is the mob boss who identifies a young protégé and lures him into his world of crime as said protégé struggles with the moral dilemma of all that. The third is the young man at odds with his father as he goes down a path the old man doesn’t like.
Set against the backdrop of an Italian neighborhood in the Bronx in the 1960s, with music by Alan Menken (“Beauty and the Beast) and original direction by Robert De Niro and Tony winner Jerry Zaks, it seems like a recipe for an entertaining if not wildly original show.
And on some measures, it does pretty well. A bunch of mooks breaking into song and dance — including one plus-sized guy named Jojo the Whale — in the initial number is fun to watch. And the use of doo-wop guys on the street corner to set the scene in key moments is also a nice touch. This touring production features a couple of strong vocal performances by Jane (Brianna-Marie Bell) as Calogero’s love interest and Lorenzo (Richard H. Blake), the moralistic bus-driver dad.
As the head wise guy Sonny, Joe Barbara is on the money, even if his singing chops aren’t all they could be. He’s the king of Belmont Avenue, Calogero tells us, treated like a god and feared by all. Barbara inhabits the role fully, wearing his gray suit like a second skin and handling dice and cash with the natural grace of a street hustler.
He’s got two interesting numbers — one where he extolls to Calogero (who he dubs “C”) the virtues of “Nicky” Machiavelli (didn’t see that coming) and another torch-song bit about the perfect girl (“One of the Great Ones”). One whole bit is dedicated to his “test” for girls and how you’ll know she’s a keeper if she slides over to unlock the driver’s door after you’ve gotten her in the passenger seat.
And that’s about the level “A Bronx Tale” operates on. There’s the collection of hoods who hang around the bar where Sonny reigns supreme — a collection of stereotypical mob characters who may well resemble the ones from Palminteri’s youth (the show is loosely based on his own early days in the Bronx) but who nonetheless come across as two dimensional.
C’s friends are cut from the same cloth, and when some of them come to a fateful end, it’s hard to get too worked up over it since we never truly grokked his connection to them in the first place. The same holds true for Jane. Love at first site may be a handy theatrical device, but C’s relationship with her seemed to come out of left field pretty far into the first act.
Plenty to like
“A Bronx Tale” is, nonetheless, a big-ass touring Broadway musical with plenty to like. The choreography by Sergio Trujillo is inspired and precise, while the sets by Beowulf Boritt are nicely gritty and spare. Menken’s music is a bit of a return to form with his earlier work in “Little Shop of Horrors,” and the R&B-infused score nicely matches the era.
But there was something I just couldn’t love about this show. I’m from New York, and I was looking forward to seeing it (as did my companion, who hails from Brooklyn), but the dialogue seemed so cliché and leaden, the storyline so threadbare and some of the performances not all they could be that we left the Buell with a “meh.”
Much of it had to do with C narrating his journey to the audience in between the action. I’d much rather be shown than told in most instances, and the narration comes across as a papering-over of a thin story. He tells us right up front that it’s just a tale, suggesting it’s one we’ve heard before. But this Bronx tale never rises to the level of something we’ve just got to hear, and Barreiro, while likable enough, doesn’t fill the role as fully as the big stage demands.
But the poster blurb about the show being a mashup of “West Side Story” and “Jersey Boys” is entirely accurate, so if that’s your cup of tea, “A Bronx Tale” may be your ticket.