Paper Mill’s ‘Bronx Tale’ song-and-dance delight



Team directed by Robert DeNiro and Jerry Zaks (4 Tony Awards for Best Director, just for starters), book by Chazz Palminteri (the show is based on his one-man show turned into a 1993 crime drama film), music by Alan Menken (listing his credits would take the rest of this blog, but let’s just say 8 Oscars, 11 Grammys, lots of your kids’ favorite Disney movies and my current TV favorite “Galavant” as well as “Newsies” at Paper Mill), and lyrics by Glenn Slater (“Tangled,” “School of Rock,” “Sister Act,” “Little Mermaid”).

Heavy hitters indeed. And that’s not counting Tony Award-winning set designer Beowulf Boritt, Tony Award-winning lighting designer Howell Binkley, and six-time Tony Award-winning costume designer William Ivy Long.

Why spend so much time on the credits up front? They bode well for a long-life for a show inspired by Palminteri’s life and the heyday of Italian-American  gangsters, especially those in the 1960s from Little Italy in the Bronx. The American public just can’t seem to get enough of their stories and although the show makes generous use of the f-word, we don’t get bloody violence in this two-hour, 15-minute show.

Narrated by Jason Gotay, who plays the adult Calogero, “A Bronx Tale” centers on MTA bus driver dad Lorenzo (Richard H. Blake),  his wife Rosina (Lucia Giannetta) and their only child Calogero — the superb Joshua Colley as the young son who outshines just about everyone else onstage when it comes to singing, dancing and charming the audience in the first act. He witnesses Sonny (Nick Cordero) shoot a rival in front of Calogero’s house on Belmont Avenue, but tells the cops he saw nothing.

An impressed Sonny takes him under his wing, nicknames him “C,”  and watches over him as he grows up. Sonny acts like a father figure and “C” is not really asked to do anything really bad. Lorenzo (played by DeNiro in the film, which he also directed) is furious his son admires the Wise Guys and tells him to stay away. He  refuses a job to work for Sonny. His son, however, continues to hang out with Rudy the Voice (Joey Sorge), Eddie Mush (Jonathan Brody), JoJo the Whale (Michael Barra), and Frankie Coffeecake (Ted Brunetti).

When “C” introduces them to us each character stands, faces the audience then turns sideways as a light flashes each time and a fa-roomph camera flashbulb sound occurs as the mug shots are taken. Very clever.

But it is hard to believe that when the black gangs start moving into the neighbor at the end of the first act they are not met with much more resistance. And when “C” falls for Jane (Coco Jones), a black girl who works in a record store, nobody seems to bat an eyelash. Sonny even loans “C” his car to take her on a date. OK. Whatever. It just seems a little to hard accept that kind of tolerance between blacks and Italians in 1968 in the Bronx.

This is a story about change, about families of all kinds, and most of all living with the choices we make. It’s also a musical with a somewhat happy ending. But someone else had to get whacked before it was all over, right? And we all know Palminteri lived to tell the tale. A pretty good tale at that.

Cordero nails Sonny, just as he did as the tap dancing gangster-hit man in Woody Allen’s “Bullets Over Broadway.” It’s hard to take your eyes off of him when he is onstage, He just oozes coolness.

The ensemble here is a first-rate, ready-for-Broadway-now players handling seemingly with easter multiple costume and character changes.

Mencken’s music suits the 1960’s Bronx attitude and meshes well with Slater’s lyrics. The amazingly talented and prolific Beowulf Boritt’s sets — reminiscent of the three-story scaffolding used here in “Newsies” –move around the set like cars jostling for space at rush hour changing scenes in seconds.

The entire teach team is first-rate as is Sergio Trujillo’s choreography.

It’s a sure bet “A Bronx Tale” will  follow previous Paper Mill shows such as “Newsies, the Musical” (2012) and “Honeymoon in Vegas” (2015) all the way to Broadway. Catch it now before you end up paying Broadway prices.