Review: A Bronx Tale

Joe Barbara (l) and Joey Barreiro in A Bronx Tale              Photo by Joan Marcus

By Larry Laneer
March 7, 2019

In this age of tawdriness and meretriciousness from the White House (especially the White House) on down, it’s nice to see a musical of genuine authenticity. The case in point is A Bronx Tale, now at the Thelma Gaylord in the OKC Broadway touring series.

The actor Chazz Palminteri wrote the book for this musical version of his 1989 one-man play of the same title, while musical theater veterans Alan Menken (music) and Glenn Slater (lyrics) created the score. A Broadway production ran from 2016 until last August. This is the touring version of that show. Both productions were directed by Robert De Niro (yes, that Robert De Niro) and Jerry Zaks (yes, musical-theater queens, that Jerry Zaks). De Niro also directed a 1993 film adaptation.

The show begins in 1960, and by a half-hour into the first act, the action has skipped to 1968. It tells the story of Calogero, a young man of Sicilian heritage growing up in the Bronx where you might see someone shot to death in front of your stoop. His father drives a city bus, and his mother keeps house. Calogero gets some questionable mentoring, meets an unlikely girl, and faces tragedy while still in his teens. It’s a coming-of-age story, Bronx-style in the tumultuous 1960s.

The honesty of the story, musicological accuracy of the score, and artistry of the design combine for a complete whole. No, this is not a deep musical of profound ideas, but it is a nostalgic entertainment that will appeal to a lot of us, even if just a little bit. Palminteri is not above a few corny jokes. His test of what makes a prospective girlfriend “one of the great ones” will be familiar to anyone who was a teen driver (or distaff passenger) in the era. Hint: it has to do with unlocking a car door.

Joey Barreiro (sounds like a character name in the show) plays Calogero, who is our narrator and guide. He’s a fine singer and actor and carries the show with ease. At the reviewed performance, Joey Calveri played Sonny, a local hot shot adored by Calogero. Calveri walked the stage with appropriate swagger.

Michael Barra, Robert Pieranunzi, and Paul Salvatoriello are terrific as wise guys (in the mob sense) whose character names I won’t reveal here. A sweet Brianna-Marie Bell plays the girlfriend.

The designers of this production are stars in their own right. With only a door and a three-step stoop, Beowulf Boritt’s emblematic scenic design suggests an entire Bronx apartment building. An iconic streetlamp figures prominently in the design. Vivid backdrops in red and black look like pen-and-ink drawings. Costumes by William Ivey Long blend into the story with period accuracy. Gareth Owen’s sound design assumes a big role late in the show.

 A ten-piece pit band plays the rock, pop, doo-wop score. You probably won’t walk out of the theater humming any of the tunes, but the score sounds period accurate.

The show’s ending drips with earnestness. One more unison step by the cast downstage during the finale, “The Choices We Make,” and it would go over the edge into maudlin. But for all the honest, edgy story that came before, theatergoers can forgive a flirt with sappiness. This show is old-fashioned storytelling well done. It’s a nice two hours of theater.

A Bronx Tale by Chazz Palminteri (book), Alan Menken (music) and Glenn Slater (lyrics)
OKC Broadway
7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8:00 p.m. Friday, 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Saturday,
2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Sunday, through March 10
Thelma Gaylord Performing Arts Theatre
201 N. Walker Ave.

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