If you plan to enter the time machine that ships you back to the 1960s and the intersection of Belmont Avenue and 187th Street in the Bronx, New York, be prepared.
A Bronx Tale at the David A. Straz, Jr. Center For The Performing Arts in Tampa, socks you in the jaw from the start and doesn’t let up. It’s a rapid-fire coming-of-age tale that seamlessly mixes themes of love, loyalty, morality and racial conflict around multiple high-energy production numbers.
If that sounds like a juggling act that could overwhelm even an excellent cast, fahgettaboudit. It never drags.
A Bronx Tale is the semi-autobiographical story of Chazz Palminteri from 1960-68 when racial tensions were exploding around the country. It is directed by two-time Oscar winner Robert De Niro and four-time Tony Award winner Jerry Zaks.
In New York, loyalties were defined by your neighborhood. It was understood that your turf was to be defended from outsiders, and the local mob boss kept order.
Therein lies the tale of a lad named Calogero, played impeccably by Joey Barreiro. He weaves in and out throughout the play, serving both as narrator to his younger self, a part expertly performed by Frankie Leon. Then he invites us to join his life’s journey as he tries to make sense of a turbulent time.
Belmont Avenue, an Italian-American neighborhood, is his home, and as a fine young boy should, he adores his earnest and honest father Lorenzo (Richard H. Blake).
Calogero also loves the New York Yankees, and particularly Mickey Mantle. He has a brush with childhood tragedy when they lose the 1961 World Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates. And that’s where Sonny comes in. He tells the lad to get over it because The Mick doesn’t give two hoots for Calogero’s life.
Sonny, played by Joe Barbara, is the neighborhood enforcer. He proves that with a little cold-blooded street justice in the opening minutes over what was first called a fight over a parking space.
Except, as we learn, it wasn’t about a parking space at all.
Young Calogero watched it all and quickly learned the law of the street — no snitching to the cops.
Sonny was impressed that Calogero didn’t rat him out and soon begins teaching him a college-level course in street smarts. He even decides the kid’s name is weird and re-christens him simply as C because all good fellas need a nickname.
And there, ladies and gentlemen is the beginning of a conflict that threatens to destroy the happy home C — um, Calogero — shares with his parents.
Lorenzo is determined to tear his impressionable son from the clutches of Sonny. But what’s a kid to do when Sonny flashes money, glitz, power, and tells C, “The working man’s a sucker.”
Lorenzo is a bus driver — a working man.
Hmmm. Such a choice. Money, power, and the respect of the crowd? Or loyalty to his family and self-respect?
That’s where Jane comes in. Played by Brianna-Marie Bell, she captures Calogero’s heart with one glance. But she is black, from another neighborhood. Calogero is white. This is 1960s America, where black and white was a volatile mix.
Be prepared for some loud gunshots, fog, and occasional moments that will startle. The music and choreography are what you would expect of a Broadway-level show.
It runs a little under 2 and a half hours, but it didn’t seem that long. It is peppered with plenty of salty language and some violence. The show has been billed as a hybrid Jersey Boys meets West Side Story, and you can make that case.
But A Bronx Tale stands on its own and delivers what it promised. As the memorable advice from Lorenzo’s character goes, “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent.”
There was no waste here.
IF YOU GO
A Bronx Tale runs through Sunday. $65 and up. David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. (813) 229-7827. For showtimes, visit strazcenter.org.