The World Premiere musical “A Bronx Tale” is now open in all its glory at Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn. What?! “A Bronx Tale – the Musical”? The idea of making a musical out of a coming-of-age wise-guy film, which began its creative life as Chazz Palminteri’s one-man off Broadway show in 1990, is an idea whose time has come.
I blush to admit this, but I never saw the film that marked Robert DeNiro’s film directorial debut. This musical, co-directed by DeNiro and Jerry Zaks, is a knockout. Music by Alan Menken, and lyrics by Glenn Slater, along with Palminteri’s book, put this work’s finger on the pulse of a volatile time, the late 1960s, when there were codes for each neighborhood as strict as Victorian manners and each group was invested in keeping itself separate, never knowing that the Summer of Love was on its way, as were manned space flight, high profile assassinations, and a host of changes whose repercussions are still being felt today.
Jason Gotay is Calogero, our narrator and dramatic catalyst. A truly delicate balance is required and he’s masterful without overplaying. He introduces himself at age nine—played by Joshua Colley in the performance I saw—and we’re off like a shot … so to speak. Beautiful moments abound such as “Look to Your Heart,” with Lorenzo (Richard H. Blake), Calogero’s father, as he gives his son the best advice he knows. Colley takes charge of his number “I Like It,” where the boy first hears the siren song of what appears to be easy money and, best of all, respect. We see the shadow of peril over his shoulder though, and so closely on the heels of his father’s words. Colley is amazing as a most rare, self-possessed boy, and it’s easy to see how this young man could grow into Gotay’s Calogero with the passage of time. It’s the story of Sonny (Nick Cordero), too, though. the Man in the Neighborhood takes Calogero under his wing and gives him the nickname “C.” This sets his feet on a particular path that we know and we don’t. This is a world of change and we see it all.
Surrounded by his boys, Nicky Zero (Jess LeProtto), Crazy Mario (Dominic Nolfi), and Slick (Keith White), C develops a crush on a young woman at his high school named Jane (Coco Jones)– a beautiful young woman from a different avenue, NOT Belmont. Between his friends and her friends, Denise (Aisha Jackson) and Frieda (Trista Dollison), they are determined C and Jane won’t get a chance to kindle their romance. Each faction is so invested in what they’ve always known, that it’s a nod to the Montagues and Capulets without the heavy handedness. When Molotov cocktails are involved, someone’s bound to find himself a grave man on the morrow.
Other striking moments include Jane’s reprise of “Out of Your Head,” as she ruminates on the chemistry between her and C; Sonny’s paean to love, “One of the Great Ones,” with its exquisite reveal; and C’s mother Rosina (Lucia Giannetta) explaining to her son, in the reprise of “Look to Your Heart,” that parents were once young and had dreams of their own. It is only when we get to a certain level of experience that we begin to realize that there are stories in our parents past that they never share, just as we have stories we’ll never share with them. It’s the moment we first see the man that the boy is becoming, and that moment will remain with you.
If you’ve seen the play, or seen the film, there’s added beauty and drama in this musical for you to appreciate. The power of the human voice when it’s doing what we’ve always done–telling a story, singing–is given greater depth and penetration by the music, the dance, and the sense of family that will keep you warm all the way home.
“A Bronx Tale” runs at Paper Mill Playhouse through March 6, so see it early, as you’ll want to see it again. Visit www.papermill.org
for your tickets to “A Bronx Tale” today, and there’s more to the season. Plan now for Spring!