The characters are simple, the storytelling is derivative of better-known musicals (“West Side Story,” “Jersey Boys”) and the tone is excessively sentimental and solemn. But “A Bronx Tale,” the new Broadway musical based upon actor-writer Chazz Palminteri’s coming of age in an Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx of the 1960s, is nevertheless an entertaining crowd-pleaser and a poignant piece of theater. If it works, it works.
“A Bronx Tale” began as a one-man show performed by Palminteri. It was subsequently made into a 1993 film starring Palminteri and Robert De Niro (who directed the film and now serves as the musical’s co-director).
Palminteri, who wrote the show’s book, relies heavily on direct narration, which makes it seem like the original one-man show is still lurking around.
Not much happens in the first act, except for setting up how the young Palminteri (portrayed first as an excited kid by Hudson Loverro, then as an emotional teenager by Bobby Conte Thornton) is torn between his hardworking, law-abiding father (an earnest Richard H. Blake) and the slick local crime boss (a charismatic Nick Cordero). Act two is an excess of forbidden love, violence and plot twists.
But there is a heartwarming aura to the storytelling and a palpable sense of sadness lurking under the nostalgia. It also can’t be denied that the undercurrents of racial and ethnic tensions and working-class identity resonate in the current political atmosphere.
The staging (by Jerry Zaks and De Niro) is tight and high-powered. Composer Alan Menken (“Little Shop of Horrors”) and lyricist Glenn Slater (“School of Rock”) have built a fresh and flavorful score combining elements of early rock, street corner doo-wop and nightclub jazz. Sergio Trujillo’s active choreography and Beowulf Boritt’s gritty urban scenic design also contribute to the overall dramatic effectiveness.
So what musical will Mr. De Niro be directing next?