A classic story known by many — whether in the form of a one-man show or a movie — is brought to stages across the U.S. in a new way: a musical. “A Bronx Tale” hit Broadway as a musical for the first time in 2016 and is now on a national tour, running in Chicago at the Nederlander Theatre through March 24.
Originally a one-man, semi-autobiographical show written and performed by Chazz Palminteri in 1989, “A Bronx Tale” was turned into the now-classic movie in 1993. “A Bronx Tale” the musical is directed by Robert De Niro and Tony Award-winning stage director Jerry Zaks. The tale sheds light on issues in the 1960s including crime, racism and social class. Curtains open to a quiet street corner of the Bronx, and the charm of old New York beckons the audience with a tale of a young Italian-American looking to find his place in the world.
Opening with the number “Belmont Avenue,” the audience is introduced to the world of Calogero (Joey Barreiro), a young Italian-American living in the Bronx. His story begins with his nine-year-old self (Frankie Leoni) witnessing the lovable neighborhood mobster, Sonny (Joe Barbara), kill a man in cold blood. Young Calogero covers up the murder and Sonny takes him under his wing, teaching him the tricks of the trade and becoming a father-like figure for him.
Calogero’s real dad, Lorenzo (Richard H. Blake), is a working-class bus driver who does everything he can to provide for his family. Lorenzo doesn’t want his son hanging around Sonny and his crew and tries to set him on a straight path.
Fast forward to a teenage Calogero, a street tough macho kid who continues to look up to Sonny as his main role model. Calogero also has a crush on his classmate Jane (Brianna-Marie Bell) which opens the door of another important conflict of the story — the racial discrimination of the time. Jane is African-American, and both her and Calogero’s respective communities disapprove of them being around each other and tensions quickly turn to violence.
The story is moving, entertaining and simply fun, varying from moments of witty jokes to serious conversations of moral conflict.
Music by Tony and Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken and lyrics by three-time Tony Award nominee Glenn Slater bring a variety of compositions to the table. Some songs were simple and vulnerable, such as “Look to Your Heart” and “In a World Like This” which best showcase the actors’ vocal abilities. Others, however, are busy and even overwhelming.
Powerful instrumentals mixed with overlapping vocals of leads and ensemble members all alongside fast-paced choreography created a cacophony in songs such as “Belmont Avenue.” In moments like this, the musical numbers didn’t add much to the story but rather created hectic scenes.
In the second act, however, there were fewer songs that included the entire cast which allowed the musical numbers to highlight the actors’ voices and fit into the story smoothly.
Chicago native Robert Pieranunzi is a member of the production’s ensemble, portraying Frankie Coffeecake, one of the members of Sonny’s clan. One line from the show, “the saddest thing in life is wasted talent” resonates with Pieranunzi as he said it reminds him of his own story. For many years, Pieranunzi stepped away from performance arts into the world of business, but said he felt unfulfilled with the work he was doing every day.
“Supporters in my life who have always said like, ‘Yeah, you’re great at business stuff … but there’s obviously a missing factor here’ and that was always the creative side and performance for me,” Pieranunzi said. “The fact that I get to be in this show with a line like that that reminds me every single night that I do have talent and I can utilize that … [is] probably one of my favourite experiences.”
Pieranunzi said audiences might be surprised at how well this show works in its musical format. He said at first, he was hesitant about the idea of “A Bronx Tale” — a movie he grew up with — being turned into a musical, but he’s pleased with the outcome.
“You hear musical and you think, ‘All these mob guys singing and tap dancing … that’s gonna look ridiculous’” Pieranunzi said. “But I think what’s so surprising is how much more the music, the choreography, the direction … tells more of a compelling tale on stage in a musical version.”
“A Bronx Tale” will run at the James M. Nederlander Theatre (24 W. Randolph St.) through March 24. Tickets can be purchased online and prices start at $23.