By Maddie Orton
A cast of characters offstage has people chattering well before the press preview even begins for Paper Mill Playhouse‘s new musical, “A Bronx Tale”. At a studio in Manhattan, Robert De Niro, Chazz Palminteri and Alan Menken wait on the sidelines for the cast to perform a sneak peek of their latest project.
Co-Director and Broadway veteran Jerry Zaks sets the scene: “There’s a lamp post, and there’s a drop that represents a look at the neighborhood. And that’s where we start.”
“It’s 3 a.m. in the Bronx, New York…” starts actor Jason Gotay.
The show tells Chazz Palminteri’s semi-autobiographical story about a young boy growing up in the Bronx who witnesses a murder. He’s torn between his father and the father figure he finds in the mob boss who committed the crime.
Palminteri’s story has been told through both his one-man show and film of the same title. But, he said he’s always wanted to see it done as a musical.
“The genesis has been great because each time you move it to a different area, it’s a whole different animal,” Palminteri explained.
There are some prominent hold-overs from the previous projects. Palminteri, wrote the book — just as he did the original show and the screenplay. Jerry Zaks directed the one-man show and is joined by the director of the film, Robert De Niro.
De Niro said he’s always agreed the story would make a terrific musical, though the medium’s not his typical territory.
“We decided that we would co-direct it so it took some of the stress off me and some of the pressure off me, but also enabled me to be a part of something in a nice way where I can learn actually, so it’s been great,” said De Niro.
Palminteri put the show’s music in the hands of Grammy-winning lyricist Glenn Slater and composer Alan Menken (the man behind “Beauty and the Beast”, “The Little Mermaid”, “Aladdin” and more).
“All these animation things that he writes, those are fables. I said, ‘Bronx Tale’ is the ultimate fable, Alan Menken is the guy,” remembered Palminteri.
The team was tasked with creating a score reminiscent of the Bronx in the 1960s.
“You find first the big tentpole moments that are absolutely necessary,” Menken explained of the process. “The father and son bonding moment, the moment where maybe the boy has to make a choice between his father and Sonny, and then as you fill in those moments, you then find the interstitial moments between them.”
“What’s the sound of the Bronx? We wanted to get the lingo right, we wanted to make sure the accents were right,” said Slater. “The way they’d import some Italian into what they’re saying. We wanted to get all that to make it as authentic as we possibly could, because really the heart of the story is its authenticity.”
Despite all that’s done, the work isn’t over. As the hubbub of the show’s press preview winds down, the cast and creatives gear up for all that’s still to come: tech week, preview performances and changes as the musical is molded and tweaked right up until opening night.