'A Bronx Tale' Brings Love and Fear to Broadway

'A Bronx Tale' Brings Love and Fear to Broadway

From left, Bobby Conte Thornton and Nick Cordero in "A Bronx Tale" (©Joan Marcus)

“A Bronx Tale” is the new Broadway musical based on the 1993 film of the same name, which itself was an adaptation of actor Chazz Palminteri’s autobiographical one-man play from 1989. Two-time Academy Award-winner Robert De Niro directed the film and is making his Broadway debut as co-director of this show alongside four-time Tony Award-winner Jerry Zaks. Together, they guide a talented ensemble through this heartstrings-tugging story about the different kinds of love a young man experiences as he comes of age in the Bronx in the 1960s. 

The show begins with smooth doo-wop music (by Alan Menken with lyrics by Glenn Slater), an F-bomb and someone getting shot. To my pleasant surprise, this show was right up my alley right off the bat—showtunes, swears and a mob boss. Neighborhood heavy, Sonny (a commanding Nick Cordero), takes a shining to an impressionable youth, Calogero (played by two guys making Broadway debuts: at nine-years-old by the adorable Hudson Loverro and at 17 by a dynamic Bobby Conte Thornton), and gives him life lessons about love and fear. 

Sonny’s not the most honest guy in town and his teachings sometimes clash with those of Calogero’s father, Lorenzo (a winsome Richard H. Blake). Lorenzo is a bus driver and his workingman status doesn’t quite sit well with Calogero after Sonny repeatedly tells him “the workingman’s a sucker.” Sonny’s got money and power, which Calogero links to respect and love. Fear creeps back into the equation, though, and the harsh results are life and death.

While Sonny and his cronies are rolling dice and betting at the tracks, race relations are rampant in the neighborhood. Though Calogero’s school has students of all color and creed, the black kids come from one part of the neighborhood while the white kids come from another part and they don’t get along—except that Calogero has a crush on Jane (Ariana DeBose) and everyone thinks it’s a bad idea, including them. Racial and ethnic slurs slide out of kids’ lips as easy as it would be to say “Hello.” This learned language segues into hate crimes and, instead of taking the time to learn about someone else’s background, fists fly, homemade bombs are thrown and lives change forever. 

“A Bronx Tale” reminded me a bit of “West Side Story” (rivalry based on race), except that it wasn’t just two groups pitting themselves against each other. At one point, Sonny and Co. have a run-in with some motorcyclists in their usual bar. While everyone in the scene is white, there’s still a rift because said white people did not all share the same ethnicity. However, as tough as Sonny is, he’s rather progressive compared to most of the other characters. For example, Sonny sees no problem with Calogero falling for Jane. The color of her skin isn’t important—though her willingness (or not) to unlock a car door is.

While set in the late 1960s, “A Bronx Tale” is scarily relevant to today’s political climate. I kept wondering why people didn’t stop to hear the other side out instead of relying on ignorant assumptions and stereotypes. One of the repeated themes in the show is the importance of your heart. If you think about it, regardless of what your skin tone is or where you’re family comes from, on the inside, everyone’s heart looks the same. Calogero learns that it’s what you do with your heart—say, choosing to love instead of being afraid—that’s important.

Having never seen any run of Palminteri’s stage show, or the film version of “A Bronx Tale,” I was on the edge of my seat, genuinely wondering what path Calogero would take and audibly gasping during some of the more shocking moments. I am continually impressed by Cordero and thought that he and newcomer Conte Thornton made a solid on-stage team. I’m also grateful that this musical was my first experience with Calogero’s story and feel that the juxtaposition of a traditional musical with a mobster mentality made for a delightfully entertaining and engaging time at the theater. 

“A Bronx Tale” is now running at the Longacre Theatre (220 W. 48th St., btw Broadway & Eighth Ave.). Click here for tickets.

The cast of "A Bronx Tale" (©Joan Marcus)


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