(This is the latest in a series of arts-related videos that appear in this space each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday)
In today’s Wall Street Journal I review the new musical version of A Bronx Tale. Here’s an excerpt.
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When should a movie be turned into a Broadway musical? “Never” is a big word, but the better the film, the longer the odds that it won’t survive the transformation without major damage. That’s why I had low hopes for “A Bronx Tale,” the new stage version of the 1993 coming-of-age movie directed by Robert De Niro, who has also co-directed the musical in collaboration with Jerry Zaks. It’s a fine little film, by turns sweetly poignant and tough-minded—so fine, in fact, that it’s hard to see how it could be improved by adding songs and dances. And that’s what’s wrong with the musical: It takes everything that was good about “A Bronx Tale” and waters it down until it’s as tasteless as a fast-food milkshake.
The book is by Chazz Palminteri, who wrote both the original screenplay and the 1989 one-man autobiographical play on which it was based, and it’s as faithful to the source material as you’d expect. All three versions tell the story of Calogero (here played as a child by Hudson Loverro and as a grownup by Bobby Conte Thornton), a bright kid from the Bronx who is forced to decide whether to follow in the footsteps of Lorenzo (Richard H. Blake), his hard-working, straight-arrow father, or Sonny (Nick Cordero), the local Mafia chieftain to whom he becomes attached as a boy.
It’s clear right from the start, though, that this new version, unlike its predecessors, will be earthbound, a show in which nothing ever happens that isn’t obvious….
Everything unfolds with predictably smooth Times Square professionalism, and I can imagine the results appealing to fans of “Jersey Boys” (including the dances, which were choreographed by Sergio Trujillo, who worked on that show as well). But for all its slickness, “A Bronx Tale” is nothing more than a weightless comic-book adaptation of the movie on which it’s based…
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Read the whole thing here.
Excerpts from the Broadway version of A Bronx Tale:
A scene from the film version of A Bronx Tale:
In today’s Wall Street Journal “Sightings” column I write about the immersive-art trend. Here’s an excerpt.
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Not counting “Hamilton,” Broadway’s hottest musical is “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812,” an “immersive” show for which the Imperial Theatre has been remodeled in order to put the cast in the laps of the audience. Runways in the orchestra, onstage cabaret seating inches away from the performers, stairways leading directly from the stage to the balcony: Everybody’s everywhere.
“The Great Comet” is a prime example of “immersive theater,” which blurs the borderline separating artists from spectators. It’s the number-one buzzword in theater—but it’s not an exclusively theatrical phenomenon. Broadly similar ideas are popping up throughout the wider world of art, so much so that merely to play a symphony, hang a painting or dance a ballet is becoming almost passé. In London, choreographer Will Tuckett staged a “Nutcracker” in which the audience served as guests at the first-act Christmas party. Major orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, are booking “Disney ‘Fantasia’ Live in Concert,” in which the animated film is shown on a giant movie screen while Beethoven, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky are played live….
The target audience for most of these presentations is the under-40 generation, fewer of whose multitasking members go to concerts, plays or museums with any regularity. The idea of buying a ticket to “La Bohème” or “Romeo and Juliet,” then showing up next Tuesday at eight o’clock sharp and sitting down to watch the performance, is increasingly alien to them. “Art” is something they download and experience at a time and place of their choosing, more often than not alone rather than in the company of others.
How to get such folk off their couches? One approach is to present art in a way that, like “Disney ‘Fantasia’ Live in Concert,” appeals to more than one of the senses. Another is to offer them a participatory experience—a “show” that’s active rather than passive. Such is the new conventional wisdom, and there’s something to it…
I have mixed feelings about the participatory-art trend, not because I’m rigidly opposed to it but because it too often seems to exist in tension with the old-fashioned way of experiencing art, which is by paying full attention to it. How well can you see Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” when you’re simultaneously reading about it on your smartphone or hearing it described by a voice in your ear?….
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Read the whole thing here.
Here’s my list of recommended Broadway, off-Broadway, and out-of-town shows, updated weekly. In all cases, I gave these shows favorable reviews (if sometimes qualifiedly so) in The Wall Street Journal when they opened. For more information, click on the title.
• The Color Purple (musical, PG-13, reviewed here)
• The Encounter (one-man immersive drama, PG-13, closes Jan. 8, reviewed here)
• Hamilton (musical, PG-13, Broadway transfer of off-Broadway production, all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
• Matilda (musical, G, closes Jan. 1, nearly all shows sold out last week, reviewed here)
• On Your Feet! (jukebox musical, G, reviewed here)
• The Fantasticks (musical, G, suitable for children capable of enjoying a love story, reviewed here)
• Finian’s Rainbow (small-scale musical revival, G, newly extended through Jan. 29, reviewed here)
• Sweet Charity (small-scale musical revival, PG-13, closes Jan. 8, reviewed here)