BY SAM DESMOND
‘A Bronx Tale’ captures real New York
Cinematic stage production, showcase vocals, nostalgic dance moves
Occupying the stratum of New York mythology that covers “Goodfellas” and the majority of Martin Scorsese’s career, “A Bronx Tale” is a story whose characters feel at home to most in the tri-state area.
The CM Performing Arts Center in Oakdale debuted their 51st main stage season with the Chazz Palminteri classic on Saturday, Aug. 12.
The audience, laughing and providing thunderous applause at the conclusion of showcase songs, accurately reflected the performers’ acutely tender tough guys as well as co-directors John Mazzarella and Anthony Arpino’s cinematic direction for the production.
“A Bronx Tale” is an absolute feast for the eyes, and lighting designer Christopher Creevy brought the Hollywood effect to Belmont and Webster Avenue with deep, contrasting yet paradoxically coordinating ambers, blues, and pinks in the ambiance throughout the various scenes.
The spotlighting was dramatic, but not distracting, as characters’ visages were softly brought to the center.
At the heart of the production were Louis Bianco V and Jackson Parker Gill as teenaged and young Calogero.
In mirroring scenes, the two captured the link between the innocence and ambition of the central character, whose allegiance to his two father figures is both at odds at age 9 and 17.
Parker Gill’s Calogero is energetic and wondrous, with enthusiasm for the world through simple eyes.
As young Calogero is introduced to the world of organized crime, Parker Gill skillfully keeps his character boyish and honorable, despite the kingpin he interacts with.
Bianco’s Calogero is less unwavering, and his torn mentality is felt throughout the performance to dramatic effect.
Both Calogeros had butterfly feet in the dance numbers and tremendous voices that carried both the message and the timbre of the songs.
In another split pairing, Rob Schindlar as mafia boss Sonny, and Jon Rivera as dutiful civil servant Lorenzo, were diametrically opposed in all but their love for Calogero, but their confrontational scene at Chez Bippy’s is one of the highlights of the first act as they both create a palpable tension that explodes into their very different outlooks on life.
Schindlar’s voice was made for this role and shone like a Sinatra-inspired beacon in “One of the Great Ones.”
Rivera’s “Look to your Heart” was nostalgic of old Broadway, with deep vibrato and an easy charm in his phrasing.
Laila Canelo as Jane was both strong and subtle in her portrayal of Calogero’s Juliet love interest, but her powerful voice was pure octane for the second half of the show. Canelo managed to mask that full, resounding voice with her reticent and puppy-eyed Jane, which made for an even better surprise as she belted out “Out of your Head.”
The ensemble of “A Bronx Tale” delivered the dance moves and vocal support, functioning as formidable unit throughout each group scene. Even when in stark repose and darkened out by the lighting, the ensemble managed to be stoical and indicative of the mood of the narrative.
During the “Webster Avenue” number, there was a step routine that was reminiscent of the Met Opera’s choreography in “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” that seemed to be developed and was clearly executed with precision and sass.
Choreographer Rochelle Martin-Vecchio kept the dance numbers full of visual interest and with an ease and throwback to the performances of girl and boy groups in the early ‘60s, but with the more decisive and rebellious spirit of the late ‘60s.