Even though reports are that since 1993 when the film version of A Bronx Tale won over audiences Robert DeNiro has wanted to adapt it into a musical, that was something hard to believe. But seeing it come to life, you can understand where DeNiro was coming from. The story holds true to traditional Broadway themes and arcs, so it was the musical accompaniment that really posed the biggest issue. And that's what you'll see front and center with this production.
This project was led by co-directors DeNiro and Jerry Zaks, with beloved actor Chazz Palminteri taking on the role of book writer. They manage to stay true to the original, injecting it with the film's dramatic tug-of-war between a father and a mob boss over a child's upbringing and place in the world. Where things get muddy, though, is with the Disney-famous Alan Menken and Glenn Slater behind the show's music. Some of it comes alive, especially a wonderful early number led by child actor Hudson Loverro who wows audiences with his talents and stage presence. Yet, there are other songs such as "Nicky Machiavelli" that fail to impress.
Loverro gives way early on to his character Calogero's older self, played by Bobby Conte Thornton, who must navigate his difficult tween and teenage years in the Bronx in the 1960s. Sonny, a local gangster (Nick Cordero) offers to help show him the ropes, much to chagrin of others. The show excels in the fight for the young man's soul and emphasis on his potential. Richard H. Blake shines in the role of Lorenzo, who wants to do right by his son and serve as a devoted father and deserving role model.
You get a strong sense for the time and location thanks to the work of scenic designer Beowulf Boritt who does such a standup job that you can almost smell what this street corner on Belmont Ave. must have been like.
The show spirals a bit out of control with the introduction of Jane (Ariana DeBose), a love interest who lives not far away in terms of proximity, but since she's black, she is deemed offlimits to the Italian Calogero's family and crew. The second half is the weaker of the two acts, as it feels a bit too much like we're all waiting for and working toward resolution. It's what we all hope for, but it goes by a little bit too fast.