‘A Bronx Tale’ musically zooms back to the 1960s
I have scads of fond memories of the Bronx.
Including when, as a scrawny little kid, I hung out on the stoop and played stickball in the streets (while vacationing during the mid-1940s with my aunt, uncle and cousins in their rundown walkup apartment, a choice I bizarrely made over an overnight upstate camp).
Including when, as a fledgling journalist, I reveled in covering the police beat for a weekly newspaper in that New York City borough’s upscale Parkchester section.
So it was easy for me to relate to — and enjoy — 1993’s “A Bronx Tale,” the autobiographical film that actor Chazz Palminteri wrote and co-starred in (and which Oscar winner Robert De Niro used as his directing debut).
Why the history lesson?
Because I just enjoyed watching a national touring company do “A Bronx Tale: The Musical” at the SHN Golden Gate Theater in San Francisco (after the show completed a 700-performance Broadway run).
It’s a coming-of-age morality play, in effect — the story of an nine-year-old Italian-American, Calogero, who witnesses a local mob kingpin commit a murder in 1960 but doesn’t snitch. As a result, Sonny, the crime boss, re-dubs the boy “C,” teaches him to roll dice and fit in, and protects him despite objections from the kid’s father, Lorenzo, a hard-working bus driver.
All goes as well as might be expected until the neighborhood changes and the 17-year-old “C” falls for a black girl, Jane, in a relationship that plays out against a backdrop of high racial tension.
Shades of “West Side Story.”
With a few tips of the fedora to “Goodfellas.”
Memorable, in addition to a healthy peppering of humor and do-wop songs that instantly zoomed me back to the era, are Frankie Leoni as young Calogero (Chazz’s given name), Joey Barreirro as the older “C” (doubling as narrator), and Joe Barbara as Sonny (who manages to overcome mind-numbing lines like “Never mistake kindness with softness again,” two marks together? “It’s too late for me but you’re better than this.”).
It’s noteworthy that many cast members were in the show on Broadway.
It’s noteworthy, too, that “A Bronx Tale” is populated with colorful Damon Runyonesque monikers that remind me of “Guys and Dolls” characters — in this case, Jojo the Whale, Frankie Coffeecake, Tony Ten-to-Two, Sally Slick and Crazy Mario.
The set (with a tall, you-can’t-miss-me lamppost that identifies Belmont Avenue in the foreground) is serviceable, overshadowed by sprightly choreography by Sergio Trujillo and plot-advancing lyrics by Glenn Slater (to tunes by eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken, composer for Broadway’s “Aladdin” and Hollywood’s “The Little Mermaid” and “Sister Act”).
My favorite songs, if forced to choose, are “I Like It,” an upbeat tribute to living the good life (even if it’s a crooked one); “One of the Great Ones,” a mildly subversive, amusing roadmap to finding a mate; and “Nicky Machiavelli,” a satirical tone-poem to the manipulative Renaissance father of modern political science.
Still, the vast majority of opening night attendees (younger than most touring shows routinely draw) clearly found the show a pleasant way to spend a quick two hours.
They applauded a lot.
Palminteri, who originally wrote and performed his tale as a one-man play in 1989, readily admits he was inspired by events in his own childhood, including the murder. And he’s expressed contentment with the musical’s directors, Tony Award winner Jerry Zaks and De Niro.
Is, in the final analysis, “A Bronx Tale” a story about gangsters? Certainly. But it’s also a heart-warming narrative about family. As well as one of community.
Speaking of community, show-goers have been invited to make a difference by contributing new winter clothing at the Golden Gate to help refugees from the horrific Camp Fire stay warm. SHN actually jumpstarted the drive, being held in partnership with Butte County’s Salvation Army, by donating a bin full of coats, gloves, hats, scarves and other necessities.
A worthy effort, I must say.
“A Bronx Tale” plays at the SHN Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., San Francisco, through Dec. 23. Night performances, 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; matinees, 2 p.m. Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets: $56 to $256 (subject to change). Information: (888) 746-1799 or http://shnsf.com.