Engeman Theater’s A Bronx Tale: The Musical Earns a Rousing Standing Ovation Opening Night
A few years back, I was blessed to see Chazz Palminteri perform his semi-autobiographical one-man show, A Bronx Tale, at the Patchogue Theater.Written in 1989, this play was based on a brutal killing Mr. Palminteri witnessed on Belmont Avenue in the Bronx when he was nine years old. The original one-man show, where Mr. Palminteri portrayed 18 different characters, inspired the acclaimed movie of the same name, and A Bronx Tale: The Musical.
Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks co-directed the 2016 Broadway musical production, with a book by Chazz Palminteri. Two beloved Disney veterans, Alan Menken and Glenn Slater, were recruited as the composer-lyrist team for this show. Menkin’s score, a mix of up-tempo Motown, rhythm-and-blues, doo-wop songs, and ballads, was period appropriate for the show, and Slater’s well-crafted lyrics helped advance the plot.
When I first entered the theater, I was blown away by Kyle Dixon’s stunning urban set depicting rows of apartment buildings lining Belmont Avenue with their front stoops, fire escapes, and the requisite neighborhood favorite go-to place: the corner bar.
The musical opens in a 1960s Italian-American enclave in the Bronx, where a young, impressionable man must decide what kind of a person he truly wants to be for the rest of his life. Should he aspire to be a good, hardworking man like his father, who had little to show for all his labors, or become like Sonny, the smooth-talking, wealthy, powerful crime boss, who was treated like a god?
This show tackles some heavy themes such as respect, conflicted loyalties, integrity, love, family, gang violence, mob crime, segregation, and racial strife.
Kudos to Paul Stancato, the very talented director and choreographer of this slick and skillfully assembled production. The dance numbers were athletic, high-energy ones, and executed with expert precision by the talented dancers.
Mike Cefalo shines as Calogero, a likable Italian-American teenager who is the musical’s central character and the show’s narrator. Mr. Cefalo displayed his versatile acting skills and strong vocals throughout the show.
A few blocks away from Belmont Avenue is Webster Avenue, an African-American neighborhood where Jane, Calogero’s love interest, lives. Having an interracial relationship back in 1968 was a considerable obstacle for a young couple to overcome; therefore, a great source of angst for Jane and Calogero. This star-crossed lovers’ plotline added another layer of drama to the story. Mackenzie Meadows was sheer perfection as Jane, and she and Mr. Cefalo showcased their powerhouse vocals when they belted out “In a World Like This.”
Michael Deaner, a gifted child actor and spectacular singer, brings a streetwise edge and infectious energy to his role as the Young Calogero. His noteworthy rendition of “I Like It,” joined by the DooWop Group and the Ensemble, was a real showstopper! He revealed his spot-on comedic skills during the hilarious song “Roll ‘em,” where the precocious nine-year-old learns to shoot craps.
Charlie Marcus was convincing as Lorenzo, Calogero’s hardworking, loving father. He delivered a genuinely heartrending performance when he gave his young son some sound paternal advice during the song, “Look to Your Heart.”
As Rosina, Lorenzo’s loving wife, and Calogero’s devoted mother, Shaina Vencel gave a knockout performance when she sang the maternal reprise of “Look to Your Heart” to her teenage son.
Sonny, the charismatic, feared, and revered mobster, was brilliantly played by Mike Keller. Mr. Keller commanded the stage with every gesture, move, and word he uttered. Mr. Keller knew how to make the audience fall in love with Sonny one moment and despise him the next. Although he could be tough as nails with his crew, Sonny had a soft spot for Calogero, and the interactions between him and the Young Calogero were some of my favorite scenes. His heartfelt rendition of “One of the Great Ones” was riveting, and his masterful delivery of “Nicky Machiavelli” was memorable.
Sonny’s crew provided much-needed comedic relief throughout the show. All the Wise Guys were polished professionals, including Mike Backes as Rudy the Voice, Michael Barra as JoJo the Whale, Martin Bonventre as Frankie Coffeecake, Christopher DeProphetis as Tony Ten to Two, Yasir Muhammad as Tyrone, and Jesse Sharp as Eddie the Mush.
The first-rate ensemble includes Cate Benioff, Michael Deaner, Tyler Dema, Steven Gagliano, Bryson Jackson, Jasmine Lawrence, Nia Nelson-Williams, Gracie Phillip, Frankie Rocco, Emily Ann Stys, and John Zamborsky.
At the end of this electrifying production, the audience jumped to its feet to give a thunderous standing ovation. A moment later, they screamed ecstatically when Chazz Palminteri made a surprise appearance, enthusiastically saying, “It is really amazing what this theater did here with the space they have, with the set; it’s just outstanding. I am amazed by it, and my hat goes off to all of you – the incredible cast and all the people here at this incredible theater.” Then Mr. Palminteri thanked his deceased parents, Lorenzo and Rosina, and Sonny, for teaching him that the worst crime is wasted talent.
A Bronx Tale: The Musical runs now through May 8. Tickets may be purchased by calling 631-261-2900, going online at www.engemantheater.com, or visiting the Engeman Theater Box Office at 250 Main Street, Northport.