Sonny and my father always said
that when I get older I would understand.
Well, I finally did.
I learned something from these two men.
I learned to give love and get love unconditionally.
And I learned the saddest thing in life is wasted talent
And the choices that you make will shape your life forever.
But you can ask anybody from my neighborhood
And they will tell you,
This is just another
By Barbara Anne Kirshner
The John W. Engeman Theater in Northport captivates once again and this time it’s with the gritty, heartfelt, edge of your seat excitement of A Bronx Tale: The Musical. The show opened on March 24.
From the moment you enter the theatre, you are immersed in the Italian flavor of the show from the red/white checkered cloths decorating tables, to the delectable cannoli, to the Sinatra style crooner in the lounge.
A Bronx Tale is a coming-of-age musical told from the perspective of an Italian American young man, Calogero, growing up on the mean streets of 1960s Bronx. The gangsters in the neighborhood fascinate him. As a nine-year-old boy, he witnesses Sonny, the mob boss, brutally shoot a man for assaulting his friend, but when the police question the child, he doesn’t snitch. Impressed, Sonny takes young Calogero under his wing, gives him the nickname “C,” introduces him to his gang and offers him odd jobs around his bar.
Fast forward eight years; all this time C has been working for Sonny and hiding it from his father. He has developed the reputation as Sonny’s sidekick thus gaining respect from all the other mobsters. At school, C meets a Black girl, Jane, and they are instantly attracted though they know it is forbidden by both their neighborhoods. They plan a date anyway amidst mounting racial tensions which culminate in a climactic clash.
Centered around respect, loyalty, love and family, A Bronx Tale took on many forms before it was adapted into the musical version. Chazz Palminteri wrote the one man play version in 1989 as an acting vehicle for himself. It is semi-autobiographical, based on his 1960’s childhood in the Bronx. The play premiered in Los Angeles (1989) before moving to Off-Broadway. Robert DeNiro saw the play in Los Angeles (1990) and resolved to turn it into a movie. DeNiro and Palminteri teamed up to make the 1993 film. This was DeNiro’s directorial debut and the two wrote the screenplay. DeNiro played Lorenzo, the father, with Palminteri taking on the role of Sonny, the mob boss.
From October 25, 2007, through February 24, 2008, Palminteri performed his one man show on Broadway at the Walter Kerr Theatre under the direction of Jerry Zaks. Next came the musical with book by Palminteri, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater and co-directed by DeNiro and Zaks. It opened on Broadway December 1, 2016, and closed on August 5, 2018. Of special note, the role of Jane was played by this year’s supporting actress Oscar winner, Ariana DeBose.
The Engeman production is breathtaking in every way. Kyle Dixon’s set impresses starting as Belmont Avenue with abstract tenements, fire escapes, a prominent stoop and streetlight where a chorus of doowop opens the show and then seamlessly transforms into various locations. Lighting by John Burkland washes the set in pale red tones, a metaphor for the crime-ridden streets, then brightens for lighter moments.
Calogero is played to perfection by Mike Cefalo whose soulful eyes, ready smile and rich vocals invites the audience into his world. His counterpart, the nine-year- old Calogero played by Michael Deaner, is adorable, but with a street wise edge, not an easy task for a kid to play. Deaner infuses so much joy into his songs it is infectious.
The voice of reason, Lorenzo (Charlie Marcus), exudes fervor fighting for his son’s soul with lines like, “If you get lost, look to me, I’m here for you.” Shaina Vencel (Rosina) makes us feel the motherly love and devotion she has for her son. Mike Keller’s mobster Sonny is charming and generous but dangerous if you cross him. He genuinely cares about Calogero and teaches him lessons he learned from the streets. “Make them fear you, not love you,” is his mantra. Mackenzie Meadows as Jane is radiant with a stunning voice. It is easy to see how C could fall for her. Sonny tells C that you only get Three Great Ones in your life and Meadows makes us believe she is one of them.
Director/choreographer Paul Stancato has assembled a stellar cast that hits all the emotional tones this show requires. His choreography is energetic with spectacular high kicks and passionate. Dustin Cross’ costumes are 60s nostalgia with tight fitting pedal pushers, midriff tops, black leather jackets and all those gangster suits. Music director Benjamin Stayner and his band glide through this tuneful score with its doowop, Motown and Broadway style ballads.
The Engeman delivers high powered professionalism on all cylinders with A Bronx Tale: The Musical. The show runs through May 8.
The John E. Engeman Theater is located at 250 Main Street in Northport. To order tickets, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.