Theatre Review: ‘A Bronx Tale The Musical’ at RBTL Auditorium Theatre

When someone mentions A Bronx Tale, it almost inevitably elicits a response from those gathered around. It started as a one-man show featuring Chazz Palminteri, whose real-life story the narrative mirrors. He also created the character of Sonny in the acclaimed film, a directorial debut for Robert DeNiro (who also starred as Lorenzo, Calogero’s father) So when adapting the film, it makes sense that Palminteri and DeNiro be involved. Together with Alan Menken and Glenn Slater, Palminteri has done a wonderful job with that adaptation. DeNiro and Broadway legend Jerry Zaks co-directed the Broadway production, which has started its national tour in Rochester, NY in the beautiful RBTL Auditorium Theatre.

. . . the national tour of ‘A Bronx Tale’ is a blessing.

‘I had the pleasure of seeing the Broadway production twice, once two days before the opening night performance, and once about a month before the production received its closing notice. Both times I saw the production, Chazz was not only present but engaged with every SINGLE fan who approached him. It’s clear he loves this show. The love for the material reflects in this national tour production, from directors and creative team to swings and ensemble members. This is no doubt aided by the fact that eleven members of the twenty-seven person cast were involved with the production on Broadway. The ensemble has endless energy, and each member of the cast is on the same page with the “Bronx style” humor of the book; sometimes loud, sometimes crude, always honest. Palminteri’s book has traces of the film, and it pops. It feels organic and real. Menken’s music is good enough to outshine some of Slater’s campier lyrics, which might be the only weakness to the show.

As the adult Calogero, who also serves as the show’s narrator, Joey Barreiro is the right balance of edgy and virtuous. He approaches the part with a wide-eyed eagerness that works to humanize “C” in a way I don’t know if I’ve noticed before. His juvenile self, played in this production by Frankie Leoni, is a plum role for a young male on Broadway. The actor must be a true triple threat, and Leoni is up to the challenge. His performance benefits from being honed on Broadway.

Joe Barbara, as Sonny, is also fresh from the Broadway production. He is a softer Sonny than I’ve seen and reads closer in age to Chazz than original Broadway Sonny Nick Cordero. That being said, I appreciate Barbara not playing the caricature and really diving in to the material to find new moments. As Calogero’s forbidden love interest Jane, Brianna-Marie Bell’s powerful voice soars through Menken’s score. She’s the paragon of a healthy and powerful singer, and her duet with Barreiro in Act Two is a performance highlight.

All these excellent performances aside, the one that captivated me on Broadway was that of Richard H. Blake. Now I’ll admit that my bias is at work here, Blake is one of the most genuine performers and human beings I’ve had the privilege of interacting with. Blake’s reprisal of his Broadway role, Lorenzo,  stops the show. His rousing call to Calogero at the end of Act One to shun the life of “These Streets” is not only well-sung, but transitions seamlessly between dialogue and song. Blake tackles Lorenzo with ease, his real-life fatherhood no doubt informing some of his scenes with the young Leoni. Helping his character development along is Michelle Aravena as Calogero’s mother, Rosina in her Act Two “Look to Your Heart (reprise)” Aravena is a skilled singer and performer, and the family chemistry between Barreiro, Blake, and Aravena is exactly what Palminteri intended in his book.

All in all, the national tour of A Bronx Tale is a blessing. The show didn’t run nearly long enough on Broadway, in my opinion, so the opportunity to see the production again in person was one I jumped at. If you’re okay with significant adult language and situations, you should jump as well.

Running Time: 2 hours 5 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

“A Bronx Tale The Musical” runs until October 21, 2018 and is presented at the RBTL Auditorium Theatre in Rochester. For more information, click here.