After a 27-year journey, A Bronx Tale opened December 1 at Broadway’s Longacre Theatre. The show premiered in 1989 as a one-man autobiographical play before becoming a film in 1993 (Robert De Niro’s film directorial debut). The solo show enjoyed new life on Broadway in 2007, and since then has been in the works as a musical. With a score by Tony winner Alan Menken and Tony nominee Glenn Slater, direction by four-time Tony winner Jerry Zaks and Oscar winner De Niro, choreography by Tony nominee Sergio Trujillo, and a book by Oscar nominee Palminteri, the musical iteration bowed last season at the Paper Mill Playhouse before coming to Broadway last night.
A Bronx Tale tells Calogero’s story of a young Italian-American torn between the father he loves, Lorenzo, and the mob boss he respects, Sonny. On top of it all, the Belmont Avenue-bred youngster falls for a young black girl from Webster Avenue. It’s a story of love in all its forms.
And boy, did the stars come out during the opening-night celebration at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York City.
Playbill.com met the creators and cast of the new musical, including Menken, Palminteri, De Niro, and onstage stars Tony nominee Nick Cordero, Richard H. Blake, Bobby Conte Thornton, Ariana DeBose, and more.
DeBose was the first to arrive (2:20) in a stunning gown by Byron Lars. DeBose plays Jane, Calogero’s Webster Avenue love interest. She opens the second act with a zinging step number, choreographed by Trujillo. “It’s the hardest thing I have to do in the show is that number, I think,” says DeBose. “It’s an honor. Sergio created that number for me, and I feel so blessed to have met someone who wants to work with me and make me look the best I possibly can.”
Trujillo joined the livestream (6:10) after stopping in to watch one of his numbers from On Your Feet! in the Marquis Theatre. The choreographer talked about drawing from the rock ‘n’ roll style that’s now ingrained in him as the choreographer of Jersey Boys and Memphis to create the movement of Belmont Avenue. “My team really reigned me in, because everyone was hesitant about how much the wise guys dance, how much this show should dance because it’s a dark edgy story, so you have to figure out how to find the balance and the tone of the show,” he said. “It was during Paper Mill that I found a choreographic life for this show. We all came to terms with the fact that this show really needed to dance.”
Ensemblist Michael Barra stopped by to talk about making his Broadway debut as JoJo the Whale (9:47) before Athan Sporek, who plays young Calogero two times a week, talked about working with the legendary De Niro (11:40).
The master of music, Menken, stepped onto the carpet (12:20) to talk about his musical inspiration for the show. In a previous interview, Menken said that he wanted the score to sound like the tunes that would have been coming out of the car radio on a street in the Bronx in the ’60s. So what song did he have in mind? “The one from this show that we winked at the most was Dion The Wanderer, and that’s in ‘I Like It,’” he said, before bursting into song. Menken has become such a defining composer for generations of listeners and Disney-lovers, but the defining composer of Menken’s childhood may surprise you: “Growing up it was Beethoven. I loved classical music until the early ’60s; and then I was a fan of the Beatles and Bob Dylan and the [Rolling] Stones,” he said. “I grew up in a family that loved musical theatre, and we would listen to all the scores, Bock and Harnick, Rodgers and Hammerstein.”
Joey Sorge, a.k.a. Rudy the Voice, who sings every one of his lines, and Joe Barbara, Carmine, pop up (15:15) to talk about the men in Sonny’s gang. “That’s right baby, I sing everything, thank youuuu,” crooned Sorge. The onstage mobsters talked about what it was like to work with such a juggernaut of creators on Bronx Tale. “It was exciting at first, and not that it’s not still exciting, but you get used to it and becomes the people you work with,” said Barbara. “They become peers, they become people that we’re all working together to put this thing together. … Now it’s like Chazz, Bob, Jerry, Alan, Sergio.” The two also revealed what it was like to have the meticulous De Niro sit in on their haircuts.
So we decided to speak to De Niro about his attention to detail and becoming a part of the theatre community (21:10). “You’re right. The devil is in the details and it’s true and some details might matter to people, others don’t, but cumulatively, all those details do make a difference,” he said. As for becoming a part of Broadway, he’s happy to be a part of it. “The theatre community is tighter [than the film community],” he said. The director also spoke about his desire to constantly improve and his favorite part of the show.
For aspiring actors out there, ensemble members Michelle Aravena (26:00), Gerald Caesar (32:00), and Bradley Gibson (43:00) offer their advice to make it in the business.
Lead actor Bobby Conte Thornton, who plays Calogero, made his Broadway debut and talked to Playbill about the opening-night experience (34:00). He and Palminteri would wander around the Bronx to help him get a feel for the old neighborhood with his character. Thornton shares a one-of-a-kind story that’s not in the show, but was crucial to creating the character of Calogero. (Watch it at 35:00.) Thornton also revealed how Cordero and Blake—his onstage fathers—have become mentors to him in real life.
Richard H. Blake, back on Broadway, talked about singing the amazing high note in the Act I finale (47:00) and what it’s like to go from playing “jerks” to the earnest father. “For me, the thing is, most of the characters I play, I try to play them that they’re naïve to the fact that they’re jerks,” he said. “[But Lorenzo], it’s just a joy, I’m a father now. It’s a joy to go out there and draw on what I have in my real life, and I would love to raise my son the way Lorenzo raised Chazz.” Blake was then joined by his onstage wife, played by Lucia Gianetti (49:10), as they discussed what it’s like to build a big Italian family onstage and off—and what it’s like to have Sunday dinner at the Palminteri’s.
The mob boss himself, Nick Cordero, brought the personality to the livestream (51:30), singing and joking about leading this “American classic.” A Tony nominee for his performance as gangster Cheech in Bullets Over Broadway, Cordero talked about bringing the humanity to Broadway baddies. He also shared a story about Sonny that didn’t make it into the show (53:00). One of Cordero’s favorite things is watching young Calogero win over the house of the Longacre Theatre. “When Hudson finished his number tonight, the crowd went crazy,” he said. “I said to the guys backstage, ‘Can you imagine being 9 right now?’ It’s exciting enough for us, it’s always exciting, but being 9 and just being that talented and that endearing to an audience and having them be on your side that much, it’s just remarkable.” And Cordero revealed the great privilege of working with De Niro.
The man who started it all came on camera (1:00:00) to share his warmth, memories about his father and Sonny, and his message for audiences everywhere: “The choices you make will shape your life forever,” he urged. “I want to show people and kids that it’s never too late to change your life.”
A Bronx Tale is now playing at the Longacre Theatre on Broadway. For tickets and information visit ABronxTaleTheMusical.com.