Intermission Talk

Broadway’s Latest:

“A Bronx Tale” Now,

& Soon, a New “Candide”

 

 

by TONY VELLELA

There used to be a saying in the local television news business: ‘If it bleeds, it leads.”
And sadly, there were always enough ‘bleeds’ to guarantee that each newscast would be able to launch with a fresh tragedy, different from the one from yesterday.

Despite its quality musical credentials [music by Alan Menkin and lyrics by Glenn Slater], “A Bronx Tale,” the new, captivating work at the Longacre Theatre that takes its premise from, and has as its book writer Chazz Palmintieri, owes its existence to the ‘bleeds/leads’ dynamic that has now become a routine part of American life. The title tells you the ‘where;’ the when is 1960 through the end of that decade.

When curious, neighborhood nine-year-old Cologero, a fixture on his apartment building’s front stoop, finds himself in the right place at the wrong time, he witnesses the murder of a local thug. No one is willing to come forth and ID the assailant. When the police find out that the kid was an eye-witness, he’s hauled in for questioning. Instead of picking out the bad guy from a line-up the police organize, the nine-year-old makes a calculated decision, with some wise guidance from his Dad, that sets in motion the events that will color the next quarter century of his young life. It’s a decision the father comes to regret later, when his son comes to view Sonny as a surrogate father figure, whose slick lifestyle and easy flow of money cause the father no end of worry.

Cologero, [ stand-out Broadway debut performances by young Hudson Loverro and as the older boy, Bobby Conte Thornton] lives with his bus driver dad and homemaker mom in a typical, lower middle class tenement building. The boy sees a different future for himself, as he becomes the ‘favorite’ of Sonny, [a very welcome low-key Nick Cordero], the mob boss whose associate was the victim of the killing. It appears that Sonny is grooming the lad to become an underworld leader.

So – you’re thinking – this is a musical? In actual fact, the story, based on true events, has been recycled through a variety of formats, starting with a one-man solo performance piece by Palmintieri. A 1993 feature film starred De Niro, Palmintieri and Joe Pesci, was directed by de Niro., This setting – the urban sixties – still resonates with the kinds of sounds that doo-wop guys had been perfecting for years, and for those who compare the piece to “West Side Story” and “Jersey Boys,” the
kinds of harmonizing and types of tunes that are echoes of those other shows still can be heard. The distinctions here are that, first, it does not make any pretense at presenting a romantic love story, like “West Side Story,” and second, this is not a re-telling of the rise to fame of a world-class chart-topping pop group.

So, then, what is it? Against all odds, “A Bronx Tale” is a small life-story that pulls you in, lets the consequences of unexpected actions resonate within you, provides you with the types of real-life uplifts and fall-downs that never come at the best time, in the right order. {I’m bastardizing a great quote by Ti-Grace Atkinson, who once said that the best things in life always come too late, and in the wrong order.]

Co-directed by Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks with enough breathing space to retain its lighter aspects, and find plenty of room for humor, these two gentlemen were wise enough to collaborate without any seemingly clashing of wills, because the Menken/Slater score, Palmintieri’s book and the non-stereotypical choreography provided by skillful Sergio Trujillo, permit all the elements to come together almost effortlessly. And once again, the talents of the great, and getting greater set designer Beowulf Boritt, give each piece of the story a proper ‘home.’

Yes, there’s a love story about two-thirds of the way in, and yes, there is real strife and real violence that both find their own homes in certain parts of this story. The most impressive discovery here is that a relatively ‘modest,’ in comparison to this largest of landscapes, New York life, can still lift you up. Give yourself that well-deserved little lift.

AfterPlay

An unstructured version of looking back, looking forward, presents us with these interesting items:

1. Judith Light and Al Pacino will headline Dotson Rader’s “God Looked Away,” at the
Pasadena Playhouse in California, prior to a possible Broadway run. It’s an adaptation of Rader’s 1985 Tennessee Williams retelling of his intimate relationship with Williams. Directed by Robert Allan Ackerman, it features Light as Williams’ good friend Estelle, and it is slated for a six-week run.

2. The person with the most Tony Awards [21] will finally receive the tribute many have been waiting for, for years, in the form of a full-blown Broadway musical retrospective, “Prince of Broadway.” Backstage, front-of-house and alleyways conflicts have kept this ambitious and long, long overdue project from coming to fruition. It will benefit from direction and choreography by Susan Stroman, and the musical arranging will be put in the hands of Jason Robert Brown. Current plans call for an August 3rd preview period to begin, at the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Friedman Theatre. Willkommen!

3. Producers of the upcoming Broadway musical adaptation of “Anastasia” have snagged Tony nominee Ramin Karimloo to top-line the cast, which opens on April 24 at the Broadhurst. The award-winning team that created “Ragtime,” composer Stephen Flaherty, lyricist Lynn Ahrens and book writer Terrence McNally, will feature direction by Darko Tresnjak, and choreography by Peggy Hickey.

4. Another one-two punch arrives on Thursday, February 23, when the previews period for the Transport Group kicks off its backtoback tribute to William Inge. Starring Michele Pawke, Emily Skinner, Heather MacRae, Joseph Kollinski, John Cariani and Hannah Elless, this double-bill-in-rep will present “Come Back, Little Sheba” and ‘Picnic”, two of Inge’s most gripping dramas. Running in rep, the bill will open officially on Sunday, March 26, and will be presented until Sunday, April 26 at the Gym at Judson, 243 Thompson Street. Full details are available at www.transportgroup.org.

5. With the full co-operation and participation of the Yip Harburg Foundation [he was the lyricist for many shows, including ‘The Wizard of Oz; composer was Harold Arlen’] the Harlem Repertory Theatre production of that classic musical has been extended through May 27. Located at the Tato Laviera Theatre, 240 East 123 street [near 2nd Avenue], the show’s details are available at js@jsnyc.com.

6. And on this Saturday, January 7, the exhaustive, ambitious North American tour of “Saturday Night Fever – the Musical” kicks up its heels at the Reif Center, in Grand Rapids, MN and doesn’t stop until . . . who knows? The current itinerary lists 48 cities, and more are being added in the weeks to come. For readers around the continent, please visit www.cami.com.

On Book

Do you want it ALL in one place? For many many generations, show folk looked to the show biz publication Variety to find out who’s hired and fired, who’s hot and not, and what the hell did she really say at that party. Well, Rizzoli has crafted an amazing chronicle of the Hollywood era: “Variety: An Illustrated History of the World from the Most Important Magazine in Hollywood.” Some old-timers will recall the days when Variety was a permanent resident of the East Side of Manhattan. This compilation, written by Tim Gray. with an introduction by Brian Gott and a foreword by Martin Scorsese, presents the grand sweep – starting from 1905, up until the almost present, and it’s a yearbook for the century in entertainment . . . clippings, press photos, reviews, and everything in between. This is a history volume comprehensive enough to serve as a text to teach a class from. But settling into that favorite armchair with that favorite beverage, and all intrusive devices turned off – – heaven! . . . For a more serious exploration of the state of the art, select “The American Stage,” edited by Laurence Senelick, with a foreword by John Lithgow. This is a different ‘sweep’ of history, but just as compelling, examining how the theatrical arts have grown and changed, from Washington Irving to Tony Kushner.

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TONY VELLELA wrote and produced the PBS series about theatre “Character Studies.” He has written several plays and musicals, including the New York International Fringe Festival Best Play winner “Admissions,” which enjoyed three productions in New York, directed by Austin Pendleton, and published by Playscripts. His play ‘Maisie and Grover Go to the Theatre,” is published by ArtAge Press. His entertainment reporting has appeared in dozens of publications, including Parade, Reader’s Digest, Dramatics, Rolling Stone, Crawdaddy, The Christian Science Monitor, among many others. He has taught theatre classes at HB Studio in New York, the Columbia University Teachers’ College, the New School and other educational institutions. His new play “Labor Days” is in development.

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CARMEL CAR & LIMOUSINE SERVICE, in business since 1978, has been selected as the official transportation company for Intermission Talk. Its wide variety of services, including special theatre packages, and reservations, are available at www.carmellimo.com, the Carmel App, or 212 – 666 – 6666.

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