The national tour of A BRONX TALE, now playing Broadway In Chicago’s newly renamed James M. Nederlander Theatre, tries to fit in many themes in its swift run time of just two hours. Based on the play by Chazz Palminteri, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater, the musical introduces us to Calogero, a young man living, of course, in the Bronx. At the age of nine, young Calogero (Frankie Leoni) does a favor for Sonny (Joe Barbara), a mob man of sorts living in the neighborhood. As thanks in kind, Sonny takes Calogero under his wing and tries to teach him the ways of the world. But Calogero’s mother, Rosina (Michelle Aravena) and father, Lorenzo (Richard H. Blake, reprising the role from the Broadway run), espouse an entirely different life philosophy based on hard work. Lorenzo, in particular, tells his son he despises nothing more than wasted talent. As Calogero (Joey Barreiro) reaches high school, he must decide how to develop his own moral compass.
While this may not sound upbeat, A BRONX TALE’s primary mission is clearly one of entertainment. With direction by Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks and swinging choreography by Sergio Trujillo, A BRONX TALE has many pleasurable ensemble numbers rife with lush harmonies and slick dance moves. Menken’s enjoyable score feels like a cross between JERSEY BOYS and LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, suitable for the show’s setting and undeniably the composer’s work. The overall feel conveys the vibrancy of Calogero’s neighborhood and the community that surrounds him.
When it comes to some of the finer details, however, A BRONX TALE could use some refinement. The musical is undeniably male-centric and, as a result, the more prominent female characters feel underdeveloped. Because the father and son dynamic between Calogero and Lorenzo is so central to the show, Rosina’s role takes a backseat. She does, however, have a lovely solo in the second act, “Look to Your Heart,” and Aravena delivers it beautifully.
Calogero also develops a crush on his high school classmate, Jane (Brianna-Marie Bell, who has unbelievably powerful vocals), who is Black. Because Jane only seems to appear onstage fleetingly, however, the relationship between her character and Calogero doesn’t have much dimension. The show also uses this budding love story to explore the issue of race relations in the Bronx in the 1960s, but this too feels underdeveloped.
A BRONX TALE also has many incidents of violence and employs many stereotypes. The song “Ain’t It the Truth,” sung by Calogero and his rather immature high school friends, in particular feels unnecessary. It is amusing, however, when Jane’s brother Tyrone and his friend Jesse turn the number on its head in a reprise. While A BRONX TALE is meant to convey Calogero’s moral development, however, some of these central themes are painted in strokes that are too broad.
As Calogero, Barreiro has charm to spare and uses his powerful voice to bring out the richness in Menken’s score. Barbara nails Sonny’s slick demeanor and ability to command any room in which he appears. He’s an astute actor, though he employs more of a sing-talk approach to his vocals. Blake gives one of the most emotionally rich performances of the night, especially as we see him struggle to watch Calogero make many adolescent mistakes. The entire ensemble supplies a great deal of energy and nail their harmonies, which highlights the more upbeat elements of the show. The cast has a discernable pep in their step from the moment they enter onstage for the opening number “Belmont Avenue.” It’s in these moments of high energy and pure entertainment that A BRONX TALE succeeds the most, and the company finds all the joy in Menken’s reliably tuneful score.
A BRONX TALE runs through March 24 at Broadway In Chicago’s James M. Nederlander Theatre, 24 West Randolph. Tickets are $27-$98. BroadwayInChicago.com
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Originally published on BroadwayWorld.com