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A Bronx Tale ~ The National Theatre

Jordan Wright
March 27, 2019 

With actor/playwright Chazz Palminteri there to cheer on his cast, A Bronx Tale kicked off its one-week run at The National Theatre.  It was a ready audience filled with those who know and love this show and they were ready for the laughs and the tunes.

Richard H. Blake (Lorenzo), Frankie Leoni (Young Calogero) and Michelle Aravena (Rosina) ~ Photo: Joan Marcu

As Palminteri reminded everyone about his autobiographical story, it’s all about not wasting talent, advice his father, a Bronx bus driver, imparted to him from the time he was a nine-year old kid on the mean streets – streets that were divided by the blacks on Webster Avenue who guarded their turf with fists and Molotov cocktails and Italian mobsters who ruled Belmont Avenue with guns and bats – guys like Tony 10 to 12, Frankie Coffeecake, Eddie Mush and Jojo the Whale.  Between the gunshots and street fights, bar fights and insults, are the musical numbers.

Jane and Friends (front) Brianna-Marie Bell (Jane) with Brandi Porter and Ashley McManus Photo: Joan Marcus

It’s a set piece from the 60’s filled with the doo-wop croonings from the impromptu jukebox jockeys and the sweet sha-na-nas from the neighborhood black girls singing early Motown.  The musical has a primetime pedigree.  Directed by two-time Oscar winner Robert De Niro and four-time Tony Award winner, Jerry Zaks, the snappy tunes are composed by Oscar, Grammy and Tony Award-winning composer Alan Menken.

Webster Avenue (center) Brianna-Marie Bell, with (l to r) Antonio Beverly, Ashley McManus, Brandi Porter and Jason Williams. (rear) Kirk Lydell. // Belmont Avenue – women and men (foreground, l to r) Haley Hannah, Kyli Rae, Joseph Sammour, Giovanni DiGabriele,~ Joshua Michael Burrage and Sean Bell. (background, l to r) Robert Pieranunzi, Michael Barra, Paul Salvatoriello. (on balconies, l to r) Joey Calveri, Mike Backes and John Gardiner. Photo: Joan Marcus

If you like mobsters, hitmen and their nefarious gangs and how they drew a kid into their criminal lair, this one is for you – the fights, the crap games and the fear that Sonny, the crime boss, imparts to his crew of ignorant thugs.  A ‘rat’ is the worst kind of enemy when you live under the code of Omerta, and Calogero, the boy, chooses not to rat on Sonny when he sees him shoot a man in cold blood.  Sonny is appreciative of the boy’s silence and takes him under his wing.  He tells him to choose Love or Fear as a way of life.  Calogero’s parents are appalled.

Sonny and Young Calogero Joe Barbara (Sonny) and Frankie Leoni (Young Calogero) Photo: Joan Marcu

The story touches on the racism that existed in the Italian neighborhoods and, warning: crude slang is used to describe African Americans, especially when Calogero grows up and falls for Jane, a lovely black girl who sees a better future for him.  After all the deaths and all the murders, Sonny turns into a kindly paternal figure to the teenage Calogero who goes straight.

Sonny and Lorenzo at Chez Bippy Joe Barbara (Sonny) and Richard H. Blake (Lorenzo); (at table) John Gardiner, Robert Pieranunzi and Paul Salvatoriello. Photo: Joan Marcus

With Joey Calveri as Sonny; Shane Pry or Frankie Leoni as Young Calogero; Giovanni DiGabriele as Calogero; Richard H. Blake as Lorenzo; Michelle Aravena as Rosina; Brianna-Marie Bell as Jane; Antonio Beverly as Tyrone; John Gardiner as Rudy the Voice; Mike Bakes as Eddie Mush; Michael Barra as Jojo the Whale; Robert Pieranunzi as Frankie Coffeecake; Paul Salvatoriello as Tony 10 to 12; Sean Bell as Sally Slick; Giovanni DiGabriele as Handsome Nick; Alex Dorf as Crazy Mario; Jason Williams as Jesse; Brandi Porter as Frieda; and Peter Gregus as Carmine/Police Officer/Gang Leader.

Scenic Design by Beowulf Boritt; Costume Design by William Ivey Long; Lighting Design by Howell Binley; Sound Design by Gareth Owen; Choreography by Sergio Trujillo.  A ten-piece orchestra is led by Brian P. Kennedy.

Through March 31st at The National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information visit www.TheNationalDC.org or call 202 628-6161.

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