Though book writer Chazz Palminteri was fashionably late to his panel, lyricist Glenn Slater and cast members Nick Cordero (Sonny), Richard H. Blake (Lorenzo), Bobby Conte Thornton (Calogero) and Ariana Debose (Jane) spoke about the experience of visiting the Bronx to prepare for Palminteri’s life story in Broadway’s A Bronx Tale now playing at the Longacre Theatre.
As they worked to find the characters and the plot, they would hear mixed reactions to news of the coming musical. Cordero recalled many people pleading with him: “Please don’t mess up my favorite movie with music!”
Blake spoke of what he coined the “intimidation factor,” since he plays the role De Niro originated in the film version. “No pressure!” laughed Blake. “I had seen the movie at least one hundred times before this had ever come up, so I was looking forward to it.” It was also exciting for Blake, who is now a dad, because it was his first time playing a father onstage.
Palminteri gave credit to Tommy Mottola for making the musical version of A Bronx Tale happen, and revealed that he was planning to write the lyrics himself until he heard one song written by Slater. When it came to choosing choreographer Sergio Trujillo? “Just fuhgettaboutit. He’s incredible!” said Palminteri.
Debose spoke of leaving Hamilton: “My run with Hamilton was very quickly coming to an end, and A Bronx Tale very quickly found me. It has been everything I didn’t know I needed.” She’s also the female that the show needed. She joked, “It seems to be a trend, me doing male-based shows.”
Palminteri said that it was important to him to capture people and the emotions of love, hate, racism, and the fact that the saddest thing in life is wasted talent. Cordero thinks that the story asks audiences if it is better to live in love or fear. “They’re both inside of you,” he said. Slater added that because all of the characters are trying, it gives people hope.
Palminteri quoted Alfred Hitchcock in trying to express why A Bronx Tale: The Musical is important in 2017. “There’s only three things you can do to an audience: You can make them laugh, you can make them cry, or you can scare them, and if you’re doing two out of three, you’re doing really great,” he said. “Well, we do all three with A Bronx Tale, and I think that’s why people keep coming again and again.” Palminteri, who wrote the original play that inspired the movie and then this musical, kept his passion for writing a secret when he was younger because of what other guys would think of him. But his father’s words ring clear: “He said, ‘Promise me you won’t waste your talent.’” While the story of the show is an homage to his father, the panel also revealed the saxophone used in the show was Palminteri’s father’s.
As for his Broadway debut and his cast’s visit to the Bronx, “I showed them what the neighborhood was like; they showed me what a real musical is like.”