Hit the mean streets with ‘A Bronx Tale’ playing in the Benedum Center
The Broadway musical “A Bronx Tale” has been compared to a “Jersey Boys” meets “West Side Story” kind of show: “Jersey Boys” for its rich musical score of doo-wop music and “West Side Story” for its drama and grittiness.
It’s not a traditional love story, but it does focus on love, respect, loyalty and family, playing out on the streets of the Bronx, New York, in the 1960s.
The North American tour of “A Bronx Tale” launched its 30-city road trip on Oct. 22 and comes to the Benedum Center Nov. 19-24 as part of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh series.
The production comes with an A-list of creators, from its original direction by two-time Academy Award winner Robert De Niro and four-time Tony Award winner Jerry Zaks, to its book by Academy Award nominee Chazz Palminteri, musical score by Academy and Tony Award winner Alan Menken (“Beauty and the Beast”) and lyrics by Grammy winner and Tony nominee Glenn Slater (“Love Never Dies”).
Inspired by real-life story
From a one-man show by Palminteri that inspired the film version of “A Bronx Tale,” the musical is actually based on his real-life story. It focuses on Calogero Anello (Alec Nevin), a young boy who gets involved in the world of organized crime and is befriended by mob boss Sonny, played by Jeff Brooks.
Taking on the role of Calogero’s father Lorenzo — a bus driver who is trying to teach his son about working-class family values — is Nick Fradiani, 2015 “American Idol” winner in his national tour debut.
Brooks says that even though he plays a mob boss in the musical, “he’s not totally a bad guy,” although in the first scene, it does become clear that Sonny is a killer.
Making the right choices
“He tries to take the kid under his wing and teach him about making the right choices in life. When you meet Sonny, he’s already made his choices, but like a parent says, ‘Do what I say, not as I do,’” he says.
Brooks’ previous roles include national tours of “Bullets Over Broadway,” “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” “Oklahoma,” “The Sound of Music” and “Fiddler on the Roof.”
He was with the “Beauty and the Beast” tour from 2010-2013, including when it played the Benedum in Pittsburgh, where, as an ensemble member covering for two leading roles, “I was either Gaston or a salt and pepper shaker,” he jokes.
He also taught himself to play guitar when he was on the road, covering the role of Capt. Von Trapp in “The Sound of Music.”
Influential musical score
Brooks says audiences will enjoy “A Bronx Tale,” in large part due to its music.
“A few of the songs are a lot of fun to sing, and people will really connect with them,” he says.
One of his favorite numbers that his character sings is “One of the Great Ones,” which he says is interwoven with a popular monologue in the musical.
“It has a really fun Sinatra croon to it,” he says. “It talks about the choices a guy makes, and the premise that you’re only allowed to have three great women in your life, and ‘you get only three shots at the real McCoy.’’’
He feels the music in the show is very influential, representing the melting pot of cultures that defined New York City from 1960 to 1968.
With a nod to composer Alan Menken, whose credits besides “Beauty and the Beast” include Disney hits “The Little Mermaid” and “Tangled,” Brooks remarks, “I love to say that this show — because of its music — is given a fairy tale quality.”
The principal cast also includes Kayla Jenerson as Jane, Stefanie Londino as Rosina and George Vickers V as Tyrone. Anthony Cipolla and Trey Murphy will play Young Calogero.
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.