The cast of A Bronx Tale leaps across Belmont Avenue in the Bronx
Chicago and NYC may go mano a mano in many areas, but they share a common asset: Belmont Avenue. A main artery in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, this street is also where A Bronx Tale’s heartbeat lies.
A Bronx Tale’s national tour, playing at the James M. Nederlander Theatre, is based on Chazz Palminteri’s one-man show. The energetic, doo-wop-tinged production features music by Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin), lyrics by Glenn Slater (Sister Act, School of Rock), direction by Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks and choreography by Sergio Trujillo.
This coming-of-age story of Italian-American Calogero Anello is set against the harsh realities of racial tension and organized crime in the 1960s in the heart of the Bronx, where “Goodfellas” reigned and everyone knew their place. Family, loyalty and community trumped all.
The musical bursts with enthusiasm and crowd-pleasing song-and-dance numbers, opening with the “Belmont Avenue” ensemble piece. Blending jazz, rock and snappy dance moves, the cast sweeps across the Bronx street corner, suggested by fire escapes and a stenciled backdrop. Before the song ends, 9-year-old Calogero (Frankie Leoni) witnesses a deadly shooting executed by neighborhood mob boss Sonny (Joe Barbara) in front of the boy’s home.
When cops arrive to question Calogero, he refuses to rat out Sonny. Impressed by the boy’s courage, Sonny invites Calogero to spend time with him and his buddies (colorful characters Eddie Mush, Frankie Coffee Cake, JoJo the Whale and Rudy Ice). Calogero’s mother, Rosina (Michelle Aravena) and bus-driver father, Lorenzo (Richard Blake) disapprove, but Calogero is drawn to Sonny’s world.
In contrast with Sonny’s guidance that fear is a greater force than love, Lorenzo advises his son to “Look to Your Heart.” In this tender tune, Lorenzo sings: “You can be anything once you embrace it. Just use your talents, and don’t you dare waste it.” Both men eventually teach Calogero to be smart about how he chooses to live his life.
As Calogero matures, he manages to spend more time at Sonny’s side, learning his craft. Calogero struggles to balance his loyalties between the temptations of power and wads of cash and his father’s moral code that honesty and grit should be one's guideposts. Sonny also teaches Calogero the difference between right and wrong, despite the mobster not living his life by that credo. Eventually these opposing factions are not as disparate as they seem, and Calogero learns how to love and be loved unconditionally by these father figures.
In 1968, Sonny tells teenage Calogero (Joey Barreiro) that a man only gets 3 great loves, if he’s lucky. Soon after, Calogero meets African-American classmate Jane (smart, sweet Brianna-Marie Bell, whose beautiful singing voice should be heard more often). She lives only blocks away on Webster Avenue (once again on a Chicago street)—but it could just as well be worlds apart. African-Americans and Italians didn’t mingle. However, the teens fall for each other, while experiencing tension between their two neighborhoods and cultures.
Just as Lorenzo sings to his son that there’s no wasted talent, the same could be said about this enlightening, lively cast's rumble in the Bronx. Through March 24.
Tickets: $27-98, Broadway in Chicago. Nederlander Theatre, 24 W. Randolph Street, Chicago.