On Beowulf Boritt’s set of three apartment towers of fire escapes and store fronts, the musical begins with a doo-wop group singing a cappella in close harmony under a Belmont Avenue sign, setting a properly nostalgic mood. The musical follows the plotline of the original. The main character, the Chazz stand-in, is young Calogero, first seen as a youngster (a wonderfully unaffected Hudson Loverro) and then as a young man (handsome and passionate Bobby Conte Thornton), whose father Lorenzo (Richard H. Blake, totally believable) is a hard-working, honest bus driver and whose mother is a housewife Rosina (Lucia Giannetta who makes the most of a small part).
Calogero, the child, is seduced by the local Mafia chief Sonny (Nick Cordero, sexy and big voiced, but continuing to play what seems to be a long line of mobsters) whom he sees as colorful and incredibly generous, despite the violence and secrecy that feeds these mobsters’ lifestyles. Calogero is caught between the “glamour” of Sonny and what he perceives as the boring lifestyle of his parents. Later, as a young adult, he is also troubled by his infatuation with a lovely local black girl Jane (Ariana Debose, whose striking soprano cuts to the heart of her songs).
The parade of colorful characters, fleshed out by Palminteri and beautifully performed by a bunch of fine character actors, gives A Bronx Tale some comic moments. Where else would you find Rudy the Voice (Joey Sorge), Eddie Mush (Jonathan Brody), JoJo the Whale (Michael Barra), Frankie Coffeecake (Ted Brunetti), Tony Ten-to-Two (Paul Salvatoriello), Sally Slick (Keith White) and Crazy Mario (Rory Max Kaplan)? Okay, most stories about the mob have colorfully named characters, but these are particularly funny.
The songs, all well orchestrated by Doug Besterman, are either narrative—“Belmont Avenue,” “Webster Avenue” and “Giving Back the Money”—or emotional—“Look to Your Heart,” “Out of Your Head” and “The Choices We Make”—and range from fine period reboots to expressive ballads.
William Ivey Long’s costumes capture the times with his usual brilliance and Howell Brinkley’s lighting takes advantage of the complex set, making the action constantly interesting.
All these elements come together to make us care about these characters and what happens to them. There are shocking moments, sad moments and happy moments and an ending that leaves a lot up in the air yet is somehow satisfying.
A Bronx Tale (open run)
Longacre Theatre, 220 West 48th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.Telecharge.com
Running time: two hours and 15 minutes including one intermission