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Wise guys musical ‘Bronx Tale’ could use more dimension

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Joe Barbara, left, and Joey Barreiro appear in “A Bronx Tale” at the Golden Gate Theatre. (Courtesy Joan Marcus)

“This is just another Bronx tale,” sings actor Joey Barreiro as Calogero, the central figure and narrator of “A Bronx Tale.”

Onstage at the Golden Gate Theatre, the 2016 Broadway musical by actor Chazz Palminteri (book), Alan Menken (music) and Glenn Slater (lyrics) is based on Palminteri’s 1989 solo autobiographical show of the same name (which became a movie directed by Robert De Niro in 1993) and was on Broadway (directed by Jerry Zaks, in 2007).

De Niro and Zaks direct this touring production of the musical, which, of course, is not really just another Bronx tale, because the conflicted Calogero, who witnessed a gangland murder in his Italian neighborhood when he was a kid and, with preternatural presence of mind, didn’t squeal on the perp, eventually turned into — well, Chazz Palminteri.

The timeline begins when Calogero (Palminteri’s given name) is 8, which would have been in the early 1960s. That’s when he’s taken under the wing of the grateful murderer, Sonny, head of the local wise guys (portrayed by Joe Barbara with humor and the requisite toughness).

It proceeds through Calogero’s teen years, when he falls for Jane (a powerhouse Brianna-Marie Bell), a girl from the wrong ’hood — that is, the nearby African-American neighborhood.

The music, too, moves pleasingly through the early ’60s, drawing upon the harmonies of doo-wop as well as R&B and Motown, plus Sinatra-esque stylings.

But the only multi-faceted character is Sonny, who — in contrast to Calogero’s bus-driver dad, Lorenzo (Richard H. Blake) — is an unexpected mix, encompassing qualities of the scarily violent, the broad-minded and even the sometimes wise teacher.

(Both men counsel Calogero to follow his heart, but Sonny tells him that working men like his father are suckers, and that he must choose whether, in life, to be loved or feared.)

Calogero, played as a kid by the full-voiced Frankie Leoni, is less interesting than Sonny, mainly because, torn between his father’s narrow moral compass and the gangster’s alluring life lessons, he represents nothing much more than the inevitable immaturity of youth, albeit with some stark choices to make.

There’s lots to like, though: a terrific set by Beowulf Boritt that beautifully conjures the Bronx; spot-on Italian-Bronx accents all around; and a hilarious set of mafioso with names like Jojo the Whale and Frankie Coffeecake.

Still, the story itself holds no surprises, and Lorenzo’s constant pleading with his son to live up to his talent feels hollow, because there’s no evidence here that the kid will turn into a famous actor. It is just another Bronx tale, after all.

REVIEW
A Bronx Tale
Presented by SHN
Where: Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, closes Dec. 23
Tickets: $56 to $256
Contact: (888) 746-1799, shnsf.com

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