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Concert Reviews:
Heart, sentiment drive "A Bronx Tale" at the Fisher Theatre

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Wednesday, January 22, 2020

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There's a great deal of talk, and singing, about heart in "A Bronx Tale."

And that's exactly what makes the exuberant musical, just opened at Detroit's Fisher Theatre, work so well.

"A Bronx Tale" has had a rare journey from the stage, where actor Chazz Palminteri created it as an autobiographical one-man play, to the screen (directed by Robert DeNiro) and then back to the stage. In all cases, however, it's imbued with the resonant touch of being drawn directly from Palminteri's life -- truncated, of course, and maybe embellished and romanticized, but the musical edition of the "Tale" remains a gritty but inspiring love letter to coming of age in his old neighborhood.

Bolstered by Alan Menken's doo-wop and 60s pop-based songs, "A Bronx Tale" succeeds because it doesn't let its feel-good elements subsume the work's larger issues, and it allows its characters to navigate the moral and psychological gray areas of their surroundings. Gangster Sonny (Jeff Brooks) is, at his heart, a decent man who does bad things, and there's a visceral emotional weight as he and Lorenzo ("American Idol" champ Nick Fradiani) struggle for the heart, mind and soul of Lorenzo's son Calogero.

The borough's urban race relations, meanwhile, are dealt with quickly but effectively, and Palminteri's book makes its point in a direct, uncloying fashion -- and with a twist of fate that provides a neat resolution for all concerned.

"A Bronx Tale" takes on a lot, in other words, but it does so in a breezy, flowing fashion that is, in fact, shorter than most stage musicals. The touring company's Broadway-caliber cast is tight as street corner harmony, with both Calogeros, scene-stealing youth Trey Murphy and Alec Nevin as the angsty teenager, effectively convey the complicated push-and-pull on their character's psyche. Brooks, meanwhile, captures the subtle tough 'n' tender blend of Sonny's personality, as much wise guy as Wise Guy. And he delivers "Nicky Machiavelli" -- the only known mainstream theater ode to the Renaissance philosopher -- with the kind of authoritative aplomb any community college instructor would pay for.

Fradiani is a show-stopper whenever he sings, especially during "Look to Your Heart" and "These Streets." And in what's essentially a man's man's world, Kayla Jenerson holds her own as Jane, Calogero's forbidden black love interest.

You can quibble about some of the period history of the music; Doo-wop, for instance, was largely passť by the time Calogero enters his teens. (And on opening night, at least, a copy of Elton John's "Greatest Hits Volume II" album, not released until 1977, is well out of place on the racks in the record store where Jane works.) And even in the wake of some tragedies "A Bronx Tale" does manage to tie everything together in a more tidy fashion than was probably the case in reality.

But as the cast sings about "The Choices We Make" and what they lead to, there's no questioning "A Bronx Tale's" sincerity, and it's hard not to get caught up in the warm and heartfelt sentiment of Palminteri's story.

"A Bronx Tale" runs through Feb. 2 at the Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit. $39 and up. 800-982-2787 or broadwayindetroit.com. Nick Fradiani, who plays Lorenzo, performs a concert at 8 p.m. Monday, Jan. 27, at Aretha's Jazz Cafe in the Music Hall Center, 350 Madison Ave., Detroit. $15. 313-887-8501 or jazzcafedetroit.com.

Web Site: www.broadwayindetroit.com

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