The show, based on Chazz Palminteri's life, has a lot more in common with 2018’s America than we’d like to think.
I don’t know about you, readers, but I can’t go a day without hearing a news story about people of color being physically or verbally abused for no reason other than the color of their skin. It is a scary world for us out there right now. For me, theatre is a way to escape it for a couple of hours. However, I recently revisited A Bronx Tale and that show is supposed to be set in the 1960s but is incredibly relevant to present day.
A Bronx Tale is about the life of a young Calogero (frequently called “C”), as he navigates his relationships with Sonny (the mob boss), his parents, his friends, and Jane, his first love. The main theme of the story is having to choose between love and fear. However, alongside that, there is a secondary underlying topic of racial prejudice.
A prime example of the issue of race being addressed in this show is the reaction from the characters when they learn of the romance blooming between Calogero and Jane, a black girl from Webster Avenue. Even before the pair goes on a date, the worries about their difference in skin color comes to light in the bittersweet ‘Out of Your Head’. Calogero’s father doesn’t condone his son “going out with a colored girl”. Meanwhile, Sonny tells him to go for it and that her skin color has nothing to do with how he feels. Against his father’s wishes, C decides he is going to take Jane out. On their date, they sing a beautiful duet ‘In a World Like This’ about finding each other against all odds and despite the people in their lives telling them it’s wrong.
One of the most prominent examples of racial injustice in A Bronx Tale is the rivalry between Calogero’s friends and Tyrone’s (Jane’s brother) friends. During the catchy ‘Ain’t it the Truth’, All of Calogero’s friends start hassling Tyrone and his friends just for walking around Belmont Avenue. Of course, he doesn’t see the harm in Tyrone and Co. passing through, but Calogero’s group tries to explain to him that if ‘you let one or two in then the whole place goes to ruins.’ Calogero doesn’t listen to them, but does keep his crush on Jane a secret. While Calogero is off trying to be with Jane, the tension between the Belmont Ave. teens and the Webster Ave. teens builds. Once again, Tyrone and his friends are just walking though Belmont when they get into a fight with the kids from Belmont. Calogero very clearly is trying to break up the fight, but it only ends when police sirens wail. Then later on in the show C’s friends convince him to join in on a plot to trash a club on Webster Avenue, but he is taken away from the event by Sonny. I don’t want to give away how the show ends, but you can certainly watch the movie, see the show on Broadway (until August 5), or check out the North American tour dates.
In 1968, when most of the story takes place, treating black people unfairly due to the color of their skin was painfully common. Here we are 50 years later and it feels like we are backsliding into that mentality, and fast. The fact that so much of what happens in A Bronx Tale feels relevant in 2018 is a testament to where we currently stand as a country. I don’t understand it; we are supposed to be moving forward, yet the country seems more divided than I have ever seen it in my 25 years.
I’m glad this show has run as long as it has because it forced America to look at its past. It’s a great conversation starter about racism then and now, and I was afraid that the conversation might stop once the cast bows for a final time. But then it was announced that a West Side Story revival is in the works.
West Side Story is an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet at the surface. If you peel back the layers of forbidden love, you’ll find a musical about the pride of Hispanic Americans, as well as a striking commentary of racism in the 1950s. I know some members of the Broadway community are a bit up in arms about a revival so soon after the last one, but the subject matter is too important in our current political climate. I'm not sure what spurred the inspiration for the revival, but I couldn’t be more excited to have more people of color represented on a Broadway stage. With A Bronx Tale closing its doors next month, and West Side Story getting ready to come back, I think the discussions of race and diversity are far from done on the Great White Way.
(Photo credit Joan Marcus.)