By Kimberly Rau
First it was a one-man show based on the true story of a young man growing up in the Bronx. Then it was a movie starring Robert De Niro. And then, it became a musical with a giant cast and doo wop-sounding numbers, and the big question is: Just why?
On its own, it’s a compelling story. Calogero is a boy growing up in the Italian section of the Bronx, New York. His dad is a hardworking bus driver of strict moral character who looks down on the “wise guys” on the block. He tells his son the saddest thing in life is wasted talent (arguable, but ok). Of course, his son catches the eye of Sonny, a crime boss who commands respect through fear, and, as he grows up, young “C” must decide which father figure he wants to follow. Neither is perfect (his dad says he has no problem with Black people…until his son wants to date one; Sonny, well, kills people), but both care for C.
The problem is, this doesn’t translate well to a musical, especially one written in this century, when no one really wants to hear racial slurs casually tossed around in peppy musical numbers. Who wants a song-and-dance tribute to Machiavelli? No one, except apparently Sonny, who really gets into imparting “carrot or the stick” metaphors to his impressionable protégé. And at the end, after a pretty tragic event that, again, is based on real life? Time for another sunny dance number! It just doesn’t work: Alan Menken’s songs all sound like something you’ve vaguely heard in another musical, the dancing doesn’t’ work, nothing about making this story into a musical works.
That’s a shame, because, like most dud shows, this one is populated with a hell of a cast. Adam Grabau is a talented, likeable Sonny who does his best to make a pretty flatly written role pop. Alec Nevin as the teenage Calogero is a talented singer who has nice chemistry with Jane (the lovely and strong singer Kayla Jenerson). Lorenzo, Calogero’s dad, is played beautifully by Nick Fradiani, who was on American Idol in 2015 and has the voice to prove it. Trey Murphy and Anthony Gianni share the role of young Calogero, and I’m not sure who we saw on opening night, but he was excellent as well.
It would be nice to see any of these very talented actors in anything else. Unfortunately, though, this treatment of Chazz Palminteri’s one-man wonder isn’t the way I’d suggest you spend your weekend.
A Bronx Tale runs through Sunday, Feb. 23, at the Providence Performing Arts Center, 220 Weybosset St., Providence. Tickets can be obtained at the box office, online at ppacri.org, or by calling 401-421-2787.