This 2016 musical based on Chazz Palminteri’s 1989 solo show (which itself became a Robert De Niro-directed film in 1993) is a paradox. Palminteri wrote about his own life (when he was known as Calogero) around Belmont Avenue in the Bronx in the 1950s and 1960s, torn between the honest values of his bus driver father, Lorenzo, and the romantic allure of Sonny, the local gangster who runs the neighborhood. Yet it evokes so many other influences—from GoodFellas to West Side Story—that Palminteri’s personal story occasionally feels like a comic riff on earlier tales.
Part of the problem is that the score by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater doesn’t work too hard to transcend doo-wop nostalgia trappings. The songs in this coming-of-age story are serviceable, but far from memorable, and they tend to provide feel-good cover for the moral quandaries in Palminteri’s book, rather than illuminating them. (The first quandary involves a young Calogero covering up for Sonny’s cold-blooded murder of a man in front of his house.)
Thankfully, the cast in this touring version of the Broadway production (directed by De Niro and Jerry Zaks) deliver performances both fresh and assured. Richard H. Blake’s Lorenzo and Joe Barbara’s Sonny both have smart and heartfelt—if divergent—paternal advice for Calogero. Brianna-Marie Bell as Jane, the black girl Calogero falls for, is incandescent in an underwritten role, and Joey Barreiro as teenage Calogero nails the vulnerable boy trying to pass himself off as a budding tough. v