REVIEW: A Bronx Tale - Original Broadway Cast

Recording CoverA Bronx Tale, Robert De Niro's 1993 movie based on Chazz Palminteri's solo stage play, would not appear to be a property that is crying out to be adapted into a musical. The film is entertaining enough, but nothing about Palminteri's coming-of-age story about a young man named Calogero's brief flirtation with organized crime suggests characters who sing. And so it proves: the musical opened on Broadway last December to middling reviews following a production at the Paper Mill Playhouse; and while it's plodded along at the box office, it hasn't managed to generate an enormous amount of buzz.

Listening to this cast recording, unfortunately, the reason quickly becomes clear. There's a very strong opening number ('Belmont Avenue') with terrific doo-wop singing from the show's ensemble, but afterwards the score very quickly takes a turn towards the generic. This is Alan Menken, so it isn't going to be a waste of time, but it's mostly second-tier Menken at best. Having said that, Menken is immensely skilled when it comes to musical pastiche, and second-tier Menken can still be worth your time. The best music here offers an amiable throwback to the Sixties: ‘Out Of Your Head' is a catchy duet, and ‘One Of The Great Ones' is a breezy, swinging solo for Nick Cordero as the main mobster. If nothing else quite rises to the level of those two songs, the music throughout is always at least tuneful.

Glenn Slater's lyrics, on the other hand, leave no Italian-American cliché unturned, and are often thuddingly bathetic. There are more than a few wince-inducing rhymes ("You let one or two in/And the whole place goes to ruin", "No matter what the cost/I won't let that be lost", and my personal favourite, "The mammas smell of garlic/And the daddy's alcoholic"), and there's little depth, in either the music or the lyrics, to any of the characterisations. The low point is ‘Nicky Machiavelli', a half-baked Mack the Knife knockoff that goes nowhere and takes almost four minutes to get there; Cordero does his best to channel Bobby Darin, but there's only so much he can do with material that is simply a plastic imitation of something that had orders of magnitude more grit and character.

There's some compensation in the performances. Hudson Loverro (as the narrator's younger self) may sound more like a child actor than a street kid, but he gives a fine, funny rendition of "I Like It", which is one of the score's stronger songs. Nick Cordero's mobster is the best thing on the album, Lucia Giannetta rises above her material and manages to sing a couplet that rhymes "budge him" with "judge him" without dissolving into giggles, for which she should win several awards, and Richard H. Blake is appropriately gruff as Calogero's father. Bobby Conte Thornton and Ariana DeBose, as the central couple, have strong, soaring voices, but not much personality. They're pleasant company, but never distinctive. The ensemble singing, on the other hand, is superb.

There are evocative orchestrations by Doug Besterman, the band sounds great, the voices all come across clearly, and the album makes pleasant enough listening, but there's no sense at all of why anyone thought this story needed to be musicalised. If you enjoyed the show, you'll want to own it; save for Cordero's tracks, though, there isn't a great deal of electricity here. It's the musical equivalent of Pizza Hut: vaguely Italian, inoffensive, and not especially memorable.


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