On Tuesday I headed over to Durham to get a little taste of the Bronx. After grabbing a quick dinner at Only Burger (perfect inexpensive pre-theater dinner spot by the way) with my friend Art, we strolled over to DPAC to catch the opening night performance of A Bronx Tale. If you are a fan of the 1993 film directed by Robert DeNiro then you will love this production and the talented cast that brings the story to life on stage. Based loosely on the life story of Chazz Palminteri, this is a fast paced high-energy musical set on the mean streets of the Bronx in the 1960’s filled with peppy Doo-Wop tunes and fancy footwork.
A Bronx Tale tells the story of Calogero, a young Italian boy from your typical working class family coming of age. Calogero is taken under the wings of Sonny, the powerful neighborhood don who accepts him into his crew for not snitching on him when he witnesses Sonny kill a man in front of his house. Sonny’s mobster life and morals are are odds with don’t with Lorenzo, Calogero’s honest and hardworking father who drives a city bus to put food on the table. As he grows up Calogero has to decide between the two conflicting worlds and realizes living a life of integrity really means.
The second act centers around the forbidden love between Calogero and his classmate Jane, a black girl from Wesbster Avenue, the dividing line beween the black inner city and the Italian neighborhoods of Belmont Avenue. Their relationship inevitably sparks trouble when a fight breaks out between Calogero’s Italian street punk friends and Jane’s brother. But it is this conflict that forces Calogero to confront the big question of how he wants to live his life and what type of man he is to become.
The cast is the real start of this production, but they have great support from a production that has created a simple yet inspired set design that does an excellent job of transporting you to the world of the gritty streets in the 1960’s Bronx. Speaking of the cast, Ale Nevin is wonderful as the handsome but naive Calogero. He brings a sweet-hearted masculinity to the roll and is excellent as both the narrator during the first few numbers and is on top of his game when he gets his chance to sing.
Jeff Brooks also does an outstanding job as Sonny, the mafia boss. He plays the character with depth and a fatherly warmth that allows him to step out of the old cliches typical of mafia characters. And although he is violent at times (he does kill a man after all) his musical numbers make him endearing and show a side to the character that transcends the movie version to show his true character as he watches out for Calogero.
One thing that really stood out to me about A Bronx Tale, aside from the superb singing and choreography, was the number of male characters that dominated the stage throughout the show. As I thought about this later as I walked back to my car after the show I realized that this casting decisions makes a lot of sense, because at its core this show is a coming of age story about male identity and relationships. While some may think it is only targeting male theatergoers I think this is a show that any audience member can relate to and enjoy.
‘A Bronx Tale’ has performances at DPAC through this Sunday, November 11th. For more information and tickets visit: https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/a-bronx-tale