When the curtain rises on A Bronx Tale: The Musical at the Durham Performing Arts Center, it’s the 1960s; and we are on Belmont Avenue in an Italian-American neighborhood of the Bronx. It’s a world in which a gang leader praises Machiavelli and extols the virtues of instilling fear, rather than earning love.
“Being a rat” is the worst thing you could possibly do. Members of a different ethnic group are in mortal danger if they cross into the wrong neighborhood. The question “Do you got a problem with me?” might be asked by a man wielding a baseball bat, ansd a nine-year-old boy could easily witness a fatal shooting.
It’s a world in which the values, loyalty, and pride of family might well be at odds with “street” values, “street” loyalty, and “street” pride. This is A Bronx Tale, presented as part of DPAC‘s 2019-20 SunTrust Broadway Series, playing through Sunday, Nov. 10th.
With book by Chazz Palminteri, music by Alan Menken, and lyrics by Glenn Slater, this musical is based on Palminteri’s 1989 autobiographical play of the same name (which was also adapted to a 1993 film). It features lively dance numbers (courtesy of Brittany Conigatti’s recreation of Sergio Trujillo’s original choreography), authentic period music (“Doo-Wop” as well as jazz, directed by David Aaron Brown, who also plays keyboards in the 10-piece orchestra), and the clear, soulful voices of a cast of 26. This tour production is directed by Stephen Edlund. However, as the program states, “Original Direction” had been by Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks.
This is the “coming-of-age” story of Calogero Anello (a.k.a “C”). His father, Lorenzo Anello, is a bus driver who prides himself on his hard-working, law-abiding, family-centered lifestyle. “C” earns the friendship of local Mafia leader Sonny, who takes him under his wing in the world of organized crime. Lorenzo resents the attention that Sonny pays to “C.” He returns the money that Sonny had paid to his son, and a sort of “battle for the boy’s soul” ensues.
Will one side win and one lose? Or is there some “middle ground” on which the young man can profit from both influences?
This is also a love story. In the culture-clash fashion of West Side Story, Italian-American Calogero and African-American Jane fall in love. Advised by the wisdom of their respective communities, both realize that this is a bad idea, but they decide to move forward.
Where can this love go? And what can it cost?
And this is a story about prejudice and the dangers of divisive attitudes.
A grown-up Calogero (Alec Nevin) tells the story as the cast acts it out. Nevin deftly steps in-and-out of the action as it unfolds. Four talented singers credited as the Doo-Wop Boys belt out unbelievable harmonies of which (rock-and-roll doo-wop group) Sha Na Na would be proud.
Jeff Brooks (as Sonny) and Nick Fradiani (as Lorenzo) are a well-matched pair of “mighty opposites.” Stephanie Londino is engaging in “the Italian-American housewife” role of Rosina (Calagero’s mother). Kayla Jennerson is charming as the optimistically defiant Jane. And the Ensemble acts, dances, and sings together seamlessly with the leads.
Our hats are off to Anthony Gianni Cipolla in the role of Young Calogero. “Owning” the stage whenever he is in a scene, Cipolla has a commanding presence and a strong voice. (Note: As the program points out, Cipolla plays the role “at some performances.” On other nights, the role is played by Trey Murphey).
We likewise salute scenic designer Beowulf Boritt. A series of meticulously detailed red-tinged backdrops fly in and out showing the buildings in various locations as well the sky. Appearing in more “normal” colors, awnings for a deli, a bakery, and a few other shops stand out from the background.
A street lamp with the street sign for Belmont Avenue subtly appears downstage right at times, establishing the neighborhood as our location as well as its dominance over the lives of the characters. A nearly identical sign appears to designate Western Avenue, when scenes take place in the black neighborhood with the same overtones. And multiple scenes take place indoors, all very realistically rendered.
Costume designer William Ivey Long has captured “the look” embraced by “those people” in “that time.” And lighting designer Howell Binkley effectively melds use of follow-spots with focused lighting to highlight the action and complement the mood.
Especially Impressive Details (Some of Which Are Picky & Little):
- Rosina Anello’s 1960 “Italian-American Mother” hairstyle — perfectly rendered by hair-and-wig designer Paul Huntley (who was no slouch on the ethno-specific period coiffure of the entire cast).
- Minute set details such as TV antennas on the roofs and variations in the cloud-cover.
- The sights and sounds of street activity, including various vendors passing across the stage.
- The “mug shot” style with which Calogero narrates the introductions of Sonny’s Crew.
- The “real-ness” of the violent encounters — kudos to fight director Robert Westly!
- Use of the phrase “because he’s Italian” — you’ll see why.
- Songs such as “Nicky Machiavelli,” “Out of Your Head,” and “One of the Great Ones.”
- Two different “tests” regarding the quality of a potential girlfriend. (Once again: you’ll see why.)
- The line “Go to the movies.”
A Bronx Tale at DPAC is fast and fun. We responded with gusto, along with the rest of the Tuesday, Nov. 5th, opening-night audience!
SECOND OPINION: Nov. 6th Raleigh, NC Broadwayworld.com Raleigh BWW Review by Nicole Ackman: https://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Review-A-BRONX-TALE-National-Tour-20191106 and Nov. 1st BWW Interview with Tyler Dema, conducted by Nicole Ackman: https://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Interview-Tyler-Dema-of-A-BRONX-TALE-On-Tour-20191101; Nov. 6th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Susie Potter: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2019/11/a-bronx-tale-dazzles-at-dpac/; Nov. 6th Raleigh, NC WRAL.com review by Caitlin Richards for “What’s on Tap”: https://www.wral.com/a-bronx-tale-review-love-versus-fear/18748173/ and Oct. 30th preview by Caitlin Richards for “What’s on Tap”: https://www.wral.com/family-loyalty-at-heart-of-a-bronx-tale/18733340/; and Oct. 30th Cary, NC RDU on Stage interview with Breia Kelley, conducted by Lauren Van Hemert: https://rduonstage.com/2019/10/30/q-a-breia-kelley-brings-a-bronx-tale-home/.
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents A BRONX TALE: THE MUSICAL at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 6 and 7, 8 p.m. Nov. 8, 2 and 8 p.m. Nov. 9, and 1 and 7 p.m. Nov. 10 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.
TICKETS: $27.50-$157.50, plus taxes and fees. Click here to enter the digital lottery for $30 tickets.
DPAC Box Office: 919-680-ARTS (2787), firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/where-to-buy.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or https://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/369510/2480263.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/group-services.
SHOW: https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/a-bronx-tale and https://www.facebook.com/events/2345854502356775/.
VIDEO PREVIEWS: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWv8SrNOF_hEcY33cBtsQuA.
DPAC NEWS RELEASES: https://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/dpac-announces-digital-rush-lottery-for-a-bronx-tale and https://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/a-bronx-tale-on-sale-at-dpac.
DPAC‘S 2019-20 “MAGIC OF BROADWAY” SUNTRUST BROADWAY SERIES: https://www.dpacnc.com/suntrust-broadway/season/2019-2020-broadway-season.
THE TOUR: https://bronxtalemusical.com/, https://www.ibdb.com/tour-production/a-bronx-tale-the-musical-518383, https://www.facebook.com/BronxTaleMusical/, https://twitter.com/BXTaleMusical, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Bronx_Tale_(musical), and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWv8SrNOF_hEcY33cBtsQuA.
TOUR CAST: https://bronxtalemusical.com/#Cast.
TOUR CREATIVE TEAM: https://bronxtalemusical.com/#Creatives.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.dpacnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, https://twitter.com/DPAC, https://www.instagram.com/BronxTaleMusical/, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durham_Performing_Arts_Center.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9th, performance. Guests with a disabilities can find more information by clicking DPAC’s accessibility page.
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.