Yet, he was the original director, along with Jerry Zaks, of “A Bronx Tale,” the musical movie (It sounded to me like making “Godfather,” the musical). The musical theater production of the same name is this week’s high-energy touring Broadway show in Sacramento.
Based on the semi-autobiographical solo show by Chazz Palminteri, and the 1993 film (which DeNiro also directed and starred in), this tells the story of Calogero (“C”) (Alec Nevin) whose role model is mob boss Sonny (Jeff Brooks, whose charisma steals the show) and the struggle between Calogero’s father Lorenzo (American Idol winner Nick Fradiani) and Sonny for C’s devotion. Lorenzo is a hard-working man with great dignity who would rather work for a living than take dirty money.
C’s mother Rosina is played by Stefanie Londino, whose “Look to Your Heart” was very moving.
The curtain opens on an impressive set designed by Beowulf Boritt (love the name!), with projections and moving set pieces that accurately display the neighborhoods of the Bronx, including the “other side of the tracks,” where the African Americans live, with street signs for Belmont Avenue and Webster Avenue, which fly in and out, and versatile fire escapes, as well as the necessary “stoop” where all the action happens.
As the play opens, Calogero has returned to his old neighborhood to reminisce about his childhood, and the young Calogero is played by the very talented Anthony Gianni (some performances Trey Murphy takes the role). Gianni is making his national tour debut with this show and absolutely perfect for the role.
Impressed by the respect that Sonny gets from those around him, C turns his back on his bus driving dad (the role played by DeNiro in the movie) and becomes a kind of surrogate son for the mob boss and his henchmen like JoJo the Whale (Nathan Wright), Frankie Coffeecake (Mark Sippel), Tony Ten-to-Two (Daniel Rosenbaum), Sally Slick (Rhys Williams), Handsome Nick (Jacob Roberts-Miller) and Crazy Mario (Tyler Dema).
C falls in love with an African American friend Jane (Kayla Jenerson) and while Sonny is more tolerant of the relationship (“One of the Great Ones”), Lorenzo is more practical about the chances of the two becoming a couple. Their growing love causes “West Side Story”-like problems and C is faced with the question of whether it is better to be feared than to be loved, and almost loses his life in the process.
Ultimately, Sonny does a good deed that sends C back to his father (“Look to Your Heart”).
Doo-wop music by Alan Menken (perhaps best known for his work in Disney movies), with lyrics by Glenn Slater, and a 10-piece live orchestra under the baton of David Aaron Brown may not be the most memorable, but they are fun and the choreography recreated by Brittany Conigatti is athletic.
This is an entertaining production with a top-notch cast and first-rate staging. It is too good to be missed.