Whether or not actor-writer Chazz Palminteri is concerned about ecology, he owes much of his career to recycling.
Consider A Bronx Tale, which he first wrote and performed in the late 1980s, a semi-autobiographical one-man show about his coming of age in the New York borough. In the show, a young Palminteri surrogate named Calogero is caught in a tug-of-war between his hard-working, straight-arrow bus driver father, Lorenzo, and a stylish-dressing gangster named Sonny, who has a violent streak as well as a soft spot for the impressionable kid.
Later fleshed out into a motion picture, featuring and directed by Robert De Niro with Palminteri as charismatic hood Sonny, it brought him to Broadway in 2007 in a revival of the solo show. And then nine years later, this irrepressible, affecting story was expanded again into a stage musical. It ran a healthy 700 performances on Broadway, despite a lack of star power or a single Tony nomination.
As musicals go, A Bronx Tale will never be considered “one of the great ones” – the title of the Alan Menken-Glenn Slater score’s best number – but it does have audience appeal, enough to justify a national tour, which plays the Kravis Center this week.
As rewritten by Palminteri, and originally co-directed on Broadway by Jerry Zaks and De Niro, perhaps the tale’s evolution into a musical was inevitable, for its echoes of West Side Story are unmistakable. In addition to the fathers-and-son triangle, the teenage Calogero becomes smitten with Jane, a black girl from a few blocks away, a social and cultural gulf in the 1960s that leads to turf wars and the inevitable rumble.
What’s more, Menken’s doo-wop-driven score brings to mind Jersey Boys, an homage underlined by an opening close-harmony number by a quartet singing under a streetlamp.
Soon the plot kicks in as a 9-year-old Calogero witnesses a point-blank murder by Sonny on his Belmont Avenue apartment stoop. Cautioned by his father not to get involved, the boy refuses to identify Sonny in a police lineup, earning the hoodlum’s admiration, friendship and occasional financial reward.
Like two opposing forces sitting on Calogero’s shoulders, Sonny and Lorenzo battle over the young man’s soul. Significantly, when the lad needs advice on whether to pursue his romance with Jane, he goes to Sonny, who offers a sage, if sentimental opinion. And in one of the show’s more melodramatic sequences, Sonny saves Calogero’s life when his irresponsible pals attempt to bomb a black club with Molotov cocktails. As musicals go, A Bronx Tale has a pretty high body count.
For a non-Equity production with a lot of national tour newbies, this cast is surprisingly strong vocally and moves well to the occasional dance numbers, originally choreographed by Sergio Trujillo (Jersey Boys).
Jeff Brooks anchors the show as Sonny, a well-read tough guy as he shows singing the history lesson, “Nicky Machiavelli.” If he overshadows Nick Fradiani (Lorenzo), that seems inevitable in the lack of balance in the writing. Alec Nevin narrates the evening as the teenage Calogero and is an empathy magnet for the audience.
And even Trey Murphy (Young Calogero) gets his spotlight number, “I Like It,” which he belts with assurance. A Bronx Tale is a high-testosterone musical, but Kayla Jenerson (Jane) and Stefanie Londino (Calogero’s mom, Rosina) both leave a positive impression.
So does A Bronx Tale, although much of it feels derivative. Maybe that was bound to happen with the echoes of other, better musicals and the several versions of this story that precede this show.
A BRONX TALE, Kravis Center Dreyfoos Hall, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach. Through Sunday. $44-$99. 561-832-7469.