By Harry Forbes
Actor Chazz Palminteri’s durable autobiographical tale, originally a one-man show in 1989 (revived in 2007), then a 1993 film starring Palminteri and the present production’s co-director Robert De Niro (who also directed the film), is back as a full-out musical, and it’s a very good one indeed.
With a solid, doo-wop infused score by Alan Menken (lyrics by Glenn Slater), and a book by Palminteri (of course), the property works brilliantly all over again.
It tells the tale of young Calogero (Hudson Loverro, then as a teenager, Bobby Conte Thornton) who witnesses a mob killing by neighborhood tough guy Sonny (Nick Cordero), but keeps mum about it, thereafter forming an unlikely bond with the gangster (who takes a warmly paternal interest in the boy), much to the consternation of his hard-working, bus driver father (Richard H. Blake in De Niro’s film role) who tries, unsuccessfully, to discourage the alliance. When Calogero falls for an African-American classmate (Ariana Debose), ugly racial tensions erupt and Calogero finally gains the perspective for which his father had hoped.
The play was tried out at the Paper Mill Playhouse early in 2016 with an ace creative team that seemed earmarked for Broadway. And indeed, Beowulf Boritt’s set design, William Ivey Long’s costumes, Howell Brinkley’s lighting, and Gareth Owen’s sound are all top of the line.
The potent directorial team of De Niro and Jerry Zaks elicit fine performances from all, and have fashioned a well-paced production.
The cast is splendidly characterful, starting with Sonny’s dubious wise-guy cronies, Rudy the Voice (Joey Sorge), Eddie Mush (Jonathan Brody), JoJo the Whale (Michael Barra), Frankie Coffeecake (Ted Brunetti), Tony-Ten-To-Two (Paul Salvatoriello), Handsome Nick (Rory Max Kaplan), Crazy Mario (Dominic Nolfi), and Sally Slick (Keith White).
Blake is appropriately touching as he vainly tries to convince his son he only wants the best for him. And Lucia Giannetta is wonderfully real as Calogero’s mother making the most of her big number “Look to Your Heart.”
In the early scenes, Loverro proves one of those remarkable triple-threat child performers, though his big crying jag in an early scene was less than convincing. When Thornton takes over as the teenage character, he makes a strong impression, too. DuBose is sympathetic as Calogero’s first crush, and shines in her musical moments.
Above all, this is Nick Cordero’s show. He was a standout as another gangster in “Bullets Over Broadway,” and did his best to give heart to the thankless role of Jessie Mueller’s troubled husband in “Waitress.” But this is a real star-making part, and he exudes plenty of charisma, and he’s been given a good old fashioned ballad, which might have been on the 1950s hit parade called “One of the Great Ones.”
(Longacre Theatre, 220 West 48th Street; www.Telecharge.com or 212-239-6200)Print this post