Musical 'A Bronx Tale,' Directed By Zaks and DeNiro
It’s not a stretch to imagine a musical version of “A Bronx Tale.” The 1993 film adaptation of Chazz Palminteri’s autobiographical one-man play — about growing up in the ’60s in a tough Italian-American neighborhood amid gangsters, romance and a changing racial time — is infused with music. But what may surprise, in the world premiere of the musical adaptation at Paper Mill Playhouse, is the addition of Robert De Niro, who directed and co-starred in the film and here co-directs the stage version with Broadway veteran Jerry Zaks. It’s an odd coupling that results in a show that at times seems to be at odds with itself.
There are moments when you feel the story is about to bust loose musically — you can almost feel choreographer Sergio Trujillo chomping at the bit — but instead there comes a more restrained, intimate and authentic approach. Missing, however, are more moments of unrestrained joy and the heightened reality of musicals. While there are several pleasant ballads and some fun uptempo songs, the score, by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater, lacks killer numbers for these mean (if somewhat romanticized) streets.
Palminteri smartly adapts his own material here, making judicious choices in retelling his story through the warm haze of a memory play (with lamppost lighting by Howell Binkley). In it, an adult Calogero (Jason Gotay, very good) looks back to a time when he was torn between two powerful figures in his life: his devoted, bus-driver father Lorenzo (Richard H. Blake) and the charismatic neighborhood crime boss Sonny (Nick Cordero), who befriends the boy when the kid doesn’t snitch to the cops after he witnesses a street killing. “You did a good thing for a bad man,” says the father, but his son doesn’t quite see it that way.