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(photo © Joan Marcus, 2016)

Chazz Palminteri’s A BRONX TALE is now a Broadway musical (photo © Joan Marcus, 2016)

Longacre Theatre
220 West 48th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through November 19, $50-$187

Chazz Palminteri’s autobiographical A Bronx Tale started life as a one-man show in 1989, telling the story of a young Belmont boy, Calogero, who witnesses a murder involving local crime boss Sonny but keeps his mouth shut, earning Sonny’s respect and ultimately a job with the mobster, which deeply angers his bus driver father, Lorenzo. Four years later, the film version arrived, directed by Robert De Niro and starring Palminteri — whose real first name is Calogero — as Sonny, Francis Capra and Lilo Brancato Jr. as Calogero (at different ages), and De Niro as Lorenzo. The show made it to Broadway in the fall of 2007, directed by four-time Tony winner Jerry Zaks. At De Niro’s urging, A Bronx Tale has now been turned into a Broadway musical at the Longacre, codirected by Zaks and De Niro, who should have left well enough alone. The best parts of the new show, and they’re very, very good, are the spoken dialogue scenes, which book writer Palminteri has expanded from his solo show, making excellent use of the expanded cast. However, the musical numbers, by a pair of Disney veterans, bring the show to a screeching halt, filled with syrupy sentimentality that neither enhances the development of the characters nor forwards the plot, instead restating what the audience already knows and feels. Composer Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater, who have previously collaborated on The Little Mermaid, Sister Act, and Leap of Faith, should have known better, too.

Ariana DeBose steals the show as Jane as a race war threatens in A BRONX TALE (photo © Joan Marcus, 2016)

Ariana DeBose steals the show as Jane as a race war threatens in A BRONX TALE (photo © Joan Marcus, 2016)

Tony-winning designer Beowulf Boritt (Act One, The Scottsboro Boys) has created a cool, hip set, centered by a street sign that turns from Belmont Ave., where the Italians live, to Webster Ave., a black community, with storefronts and tenement buildings that also rotate to indicate a change of location; the two neighborhoods are close to each other but couldn’t be further apart. The show is narrated by Bobby Conte Thornton, in his engaging Broadway debut, as the adult Calogero, who looks back at the choices he and his father made; Hudson Loverro plays the nine-year-old Calogero, nicknamed “C” by Sonny. Tony nominee Nick Cordero (Bullets over Broadway, Rock of Ages) is impressive as Sonny, forming an intimate chemistry with both Calogeros while battling against Lorenzo (a rock-solid Richard H. Blake of Jersey Boys). The real stand-out is Ariana DeBose (Hamilton, Pippin) as Jane, an African American high school student whom Calogero is interested in, which threatens to set off a local race war. She has a mesmerizing stage presence, with the voice and moves to match. But the real problem is the music, a mix of doo-wop and ballads, and Sergio Trujillo’s (On Your Feet, Jersey Boys) choreography, which together range back and forth between pale imitations of Grease and West Side Story. The film featured classic songs by the Impressions, John Coltrane, the Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Dion, the Moonglows, and others, helping set the proper mood; in the musical, the orchestrations by three-time Tony winner Doug Besterman (Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Producers) are drab and dull, unfortunately matching the music and lyrics, sapping the energy out of the show. If one more song focused on the word “heart,” I might have had to run out of the theater screaming. Without the production numbers, A Bronx Tale is compelling and intriguing; with them, it embodies the critical advice Lorenzo gives young Calogero: “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent. Promise me you won’t waste yours.”

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