"A Bronx Tale" is a largely feel-good musical in which the teenage main character learns valuable lessons about racial hatred, doing the right thing and not following the addictive lure of the easy path.
The national tour, which is playing at the Connor Palace at Playhouse Square through May 12, follows the semi-autobiographical tale of Chazz Palminteri, the book writer who grew up in a tough Italian area of the Bronx in the 1960s. The musical adheres closely to the 1993 film directed by Robert De Niro, which is based on Palminteri's one-man show about his own conflicting loyalties toward his working-class, honest father and the smooth neighborhood mob boss who also became his father figure.
"A Bronx Tale" starts out with the story of Young Calogero, who at age 9 witnesses a shocking event right outside his stoop that changes his life. Teen Calogero (Joey Barreiro) serves as the narrator, introducing his life as a kid in 1960 at Belmont Avenue and 187th Street.
It's a colorful scene with a wonderful doo-wop quartet (Sean Bell, Joshua Michael Burrage, Giovanni DiGabriel and Alex Dorf) and high-energy ensemble dance with the neighborhood's Italian denizens. So even for those who know the movie, it's shocking when this fun-loving scene is suddenly overtaken by violence.
Directors Jerry Zaks and De Niro weave older Calogero's commentary in seamlessly with scenes from Young Calogero's life. On Thursday night, young actor Brigg Liberman displayed plenty of spunk and charm as he looked to both father Lorenzo (Richard Blake) and mobster Sonny (Joe Barbara) for guidance.
Liberman also sang like a little superstar, backed up by the adult ensemble in the doo-wop "I Like It," in which the youngster sings about the joys of all the perks of being Sonny's "boy," nicknamed "C."
This is the memory play of Calogero, whose teen character is played by the winsome, handsome Barreiro. The actor makes "C's" good heart shine through, despite his hanging out with unsavory older and younger characters.
Although it's C's story, I found myself wanting to get to know other characters better, including the colorful assortment of mobsters whose names range from Frankie Coffeecake to JoJo the Whale. Most of all, I wanted to know more of young, black character Jane, C's love interest played by former Stow resident Brianna-Marie Bell.
Bell creates an ebullient, confident Jane who dares to defy cultural norms by dating C, encourages him to further his education and questions his choice of friends. This actress's singing has a powerful R&B edge and her dancing is top-notch.
Her Jane is better fleshed out than the character was in the movie, largely thanks to song. But the pace of this live show is so brisk, we only get a quick glimpse into Jane's Webster Avenue community through the tune by that name.
This story would benefit from fleshing out perspectives of other characters besides C's. The closest the script comes to that is when C's mother Rosina (Michelle Aravena) warns C not to judge his hard-working father in the "Look to Your Heart" reprise.
Despite the story's one-dimensionality, Alan Menken's doo-wop score is a lot of fun and puts the audience in the world of 1960-1968 in the Bronx. And it's cool when the musical style switches to Frank Sinatra-smooth for Sonny's solos.
In this story, we learn that both father Lorenzo and boss man Sonny are trapped in their neighborhood, in different ways. But through the love of both men, C doesn't have to be.
Nevertheless, the result is that this coming-of-age tale left me feeling cold with its pat ending.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or email@example.com. Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj.