Cleveland gets a taste of New York in A BRONX TALE at Playhouse Square

There’s nothing more gut-wrenching than watching a loved one, especially a young person, make terrible decisions and not being able to stop them. A BRONX TALE gangs up on the audience with tough talk, macho choices, and (of course) song and dance at Playhouse Square now through May 12, 2019.

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

Straight from the press release:
“Based on the one-man show that inspired the now classic film, this streetwise musical takes audiences to the stoops of the Bronx in the 1960s—where a young man is caught between the father he loves and the mob boss he’d love to be. Featuring an original doo-wop score, this is a tale about respect, loyalty, love, and above all else: family.”

(foreground, l to r) Haley Hannah, Joseph Sammour, Joshua Michael Burrage, Giovanni DiGabriele, Sean Bell, Kyli Rae. (background, l to r) Robert Pieranunzi, Michael Barra, Paul Salvatoriello and Mike Backes. Photo: Joan Marcus

Young Calogero (pronounced “kuh-LOH-jer-oh”), better known as “C,” gets pulled into the wormhole of mob life when he witnesses a gangster named Sonny commit a murder. When C doesn’t rat him out, Sonny sees something special in the youngster, and plies him with the excitement and money that a life of crime can offer. Their games of dice get to be particularly lucrative (“Roll ‘Em”), and C’s father Lorenzo confronts Sonny about his bad influence. As a hard working bus driver, Lorenzo wants nothing but an upstanding life for his son (“Giving the Money Back”).

“The saddest thing in life is wasted talent, and the choices that you make will shape your life forever,” says Lorenzo to C over and over again. Lorenzo wants his son to make something great of his life – to get out and live his potential. Yet C struggles with these words as he gets another gem of wisdom from Sonny, “The working man is a sucker.” As one of those working men, C’s father seems to be the living example of one of those suckers, and C doesn’t want to be like that.

Frankie Leoni (Young Calogero) and Richard H. Blake (Lorenzo) Photo: Joan Marcus

Of course there’s no greater drama than the passions of love, which an older Calogero finds with Jane, an African American neighbor. In a racially divided city, this romance only adds to the confusion in C’s life as he climbs the ranks in Sonny’s character-filled gang.

Is the story of two rival groups of people fighting over territory familiar? Yes. Are the topics of race and immigrant turmoil new? No. But A BRONX TALE is jam packed with heart, plenty of laughs, and an ending so stunning that the entire theater goes eerily silent.

Brianna-Marie Bell (Jane) and Joey Barreiro (Calogero) Photo: Joan Marcus

The performances are A1 in this doo-wop, coming-of-age musical, and the talent lineup packs some punch. From Playbill:

“The cast, which features 11 alumni from the Broadway production, is led by Joe Barbara as Sonny, Richard H. Blake as Lorenzo, Joey Barreiro as Calogero, Michelle Aravena as Rosina, Brianna-Marie Bell as Jane, Antonio Beverly as Tyrone, Frankie Leoni as Young Calogero, and Shane Pry as Young Calogero Alternate.

The ensemble features Mike Backes, Michael Barra, Sean Bell, Joshua Michael Burrage, Joey Calveri, Giovanni DiGabriele, John Gardiner, Peter Gregus, Haley Hannah, Kirk Lydell, Ashley McManus, Chris Messina, Robert Pieranunzi, Brandi Porter, Kyli Rae, Joseph Sammour, Paul Salvatoriello, Brittany Williams, and Jason Williams.” – Playbill.com*

With book by Academy Award nominee Chazz Palminteri, music by eight-time Academy Award winner Alan Menken, and lyrics by three-time Tony Award nominee Glenn Slater, there are plenty of performance highlights.

(center) Brianna-Marie Bell, with (l to r) Antonio Beverly, Ashley McManus, Brandi Porter and Jason Williams. (rear) Kirk Lydell. Photo: Joan Marcus

“Belmont Avenue” by Calogero (Young version played by Shane Pry and Older version played by Joey Barreiro) is a great introduction to the heart of the neighborhood and little “C.”

“Webster Avenue” is the most fun and energetic number of the show, featuring Jane (Brianna-Marie Bell) and her crew. They dance with vivacity and pride as they describe their part of town, bringing a celebration feel to the top of the second act.

“In a World Like This” with older Calogero and Jane is uplifting, yet heartbreaking. The pair sings beautifully and sincerely about their feelings, promising not to let others come between them.

Joe Barbara (Sonny) and Frankie Leoni (Young Calogero) and Company of A BRONX TALE Photo: Joan Marcus

Richard H. Blake’s overall vocal performance as Lorenzo is smooth and magical, and he pairs nicely against the gruff yet silky presentation of Joe Barbara as Sonny.

Overall this show is solid, with enjoyable acting, singing and dancing. The design elements are interesting and appropriate for the time. Special technical appreciation goes out for the great period costuming, and also for the execution of the car scenes.

A BRONX TALE is at Playhouse Square in Cleveland, OH now through May 12, 2019. Tickets are available by visiting www.playhousesquare.org, or by calling 216-241-6000.

The show runs 2 hours, including one 15-minute intermission.

*National Tour of A Bronx Tale Launches October 14
http://www.playbill.com/article/national-tour-of-a-bronx-tale-launches-october-14

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