Theater Review: A BRONX TALE (North American Tour)

by Samuel Garza Bernstein on November 10, 2018

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional,Tours

CULTURE CLASH

Narratively, there are two cultural clashes at the center of A Bronx Tale, now at the Pantages as part of its North American Tour. Italians and African-Americans are on opposite sides, as are the mafia and law-abiding citizens. There is also a third clash, though, and it’s the one that matters most: The clash of styles. The naturalism of the source material, Chazz Palminteri’s original solo show, is at odds with the demands of traditional musical theater.

A Bronx Tale is a mainstream, commercial enterprise that does not strive to be Hamilton or Fun Home, nor should it. Yet it violates the most basic of Broadway traditions: Boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. That happens here, but then the boy tosses her aside, leaving us unsettled and unhappy. Why did we invest all that time listening to all those love songs if he can blithely dismiss her? In real life, they probably wouldn’t have stayed together. But love in musicals is meant to last forever.

In 1989, Mr. Palminteri wrote and starred in A Bronx Tale as a solo show, opening it in Los Angeles and then transferring it Off-Broadway. In 1993, Robert De Niro famously gave him the chance to make it as the film he wanted it to be, with Palminteri joining De Niro in the cast. In 2007 the solo show made it to Broadway, and in 2016 the Broadway musical version arrived, with music and lyrics from Disney veterans Alan Menken and Glenn Slater, co-directed by Jerry Zaks and Mr. De Niro.

A young Italian-American, Calogero (Joey Barreiro), narrates a seminal story in his life, when as a 9-year-old (Frankie Leoni), he witnesses a mob murder by neighborhood hard-man Sonny (Joe Barbara). The kid refuses to rat out Sonny and they form a kind of father/son bond. Which is not welcomed by Young Calogero’s actual father, Lorenzo (Richard H. Blake), a bus driver who works hard for the money. Sonny mentors Calogero, nicknaming him C, teaching him to shoot craps, and making sure the boy has money in his pocket and a big rep in the neighborhood.

Then as a young man C falls for an African-American girl, Jane (Brianna-Marie Bell). Her friends (Ashley McManus, Brandi Porter) go all West Side Story warning her away. Things go wrong, people die, true love prevails, then it doesn’t. I have fond memories of the film, and I admire the talent of everyone involved. But in the end, the conflicting styles do not mesh, leaving the polished, ably talented performers with nowhere to go. Perhaps the co-direction of Messrs. Zaks and De Niro is the culprit. One is known for his wonderfully slick, funny, fast-paced way with Broadway musicals and comedy. The other… isn’t.

photos by Joan Marcus

A Bronx Tale
national tour
for tickets, call 800.982.2787
or visit Hollywood Pantages
ends in L.A. on November 25, 2018
national tour continues in to 2019
for dates, cities, and info, visit A Bronx Tale

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