Alan Menken’s musical, A Bronx Tale, takes audiences back to a 1960s street scene in the Bronx. Catch the show at the Fisher starting Jan. 21.
Featured photo by Joan Marcus
Composer Alan Menken’s studio, just outside New York City, became the setting for work with lyricist Glenn Slater to develop the score for a musical version of A Bronx Tale, first a one-man stage production and then a large-cast film.
The award-winning musical team, while punctuating the fictionalized early neighborhood experiences of actor-writer Chazz Palminteri, sought to enhance the emotional sensitivities in this coming-of-age story reimagined for the stage.
The plot moves along as a youngster (Calogero) makes life choices, watching the modest and honorable example of his dad (Lorenzo) as compared to the flashy and danger-filled ways of a mob boss (Sonny).
A Bronx Tale: The Musical, scheduled Jan. 21 -Feb. 2 at the Fisher Theatre, is filled with some 15 musical numbers accentuating a Palminteri script.
“Music turns up sights, sounds and feelings, so Alan and I tried to create [what could have been] heard in the 1960s on a street in the Bronx,” explains Slater, who earlier partnered with Menken on the scores of the film Home on the Range, the stage production of Sister Act and the TV series Galavant.
The two wanted audiences to understand what it might have meant to experience snatches of music from car radios, the candy store on the corner, an apartment with an open window and a transistor radio held by a teen sitting on a stoop.
“We tried to bring a sense of all these different strands of music — whether it be doo-wop or Motown or Sinatra or Bobby Darin — from that era blending together,” Slater explains. “Using that musical tapestry with this story packs a real wallop when you get to the end.”
Slater’s favorite song in the show is “One of the Great Ones.” It expresses the way one person looks back on life, and Slater can relate to that general idea, especially as it pertains to raising his two teenage sons.
Slater and Menken, working together for 20 years, have established a comfortable way of collaborating.
“I have a title for a song in mind and a line or two of lyric,” Slater, 51, says. “We’ll spend a big part of time talking about the characters, scene and what we want the song to do and sound like. Once we’ve discussed it, Alan will sit down at the keyboard and start writing it in musical language.
“At the end of two or three hours, we’ll have a finished melody of the musical push of the song, and I have a sense of where I want to go language-wise. I spend up to a week building the lyric, and we’ll sit down at the keyboard again. He’ll work on the melody based on what I have given him. We do the nips and tucks together, and the song is finished.”
Slater, also a composer, got his career interest in high school, when he came up with music for a student production, won a competition seen by a producer and had his work presented off-Broadway. He went on to write for the Hasty Pudding Theatricals while attending Harvard.
After moving to New York, working in advertising for a time and attending a BMI Musical Theatre Workshop, he wrote pieces noticed and used by Disney Studios, where he caught the attention of Menken. In a project with Andrew Lloyd Webber, Slater was in Detroit to watch the first stop in a tour of their Love Never Dies.
“My wife, Wendy Wilf, is also a composer and lyricist.” says Slater, whose family attends the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York. “We’re working on a show called Beatsville. She did the music and the lyrics, and I did the book.
“For some people, it’s hard to imagine A Bronx Tale as a musical because it can be so gritty, but one of the things I’m really proud of is that we managed to keep the tone of the film almost intact.”
Dan Rosenbaum, who takes the role of Sonny’s bodyguard (Tony Ten-to-Two) and understudies Sonny and Lorenzo, was one of those wondering how the movie would translate into a musical and became very impressed as soon as he connected with the show.
“It’s a great production about fathers and sons, love, underdogs and, most important, family,” says Rosenbaum, 41, who appears in most of the group musical numbers. “It’s been a blessing to have a lot to do.”
The number that strongly speaks to Rosenbaum is “Look to Your Heart” as father advises son.
“It’s Lorenzo saying when things get tough, look inside you and choose between love and fear,” Rosenbaum says. “It’s a very tender moment between the two of them, and you see how much Lorenzo cares and how much he wants to teach Calogero about how to be a man and make the right decisions.”
Rosenbaum, who has toured to Detroit with Miss Saigon and Rent, made his decision to be an actor while appearing in high school musicals growing up in Ohio. He studied at Wright State University before moving to New York and graduating from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.
While work came soon through tours and regional theaters, he took a break selling advertising for The Forward. It provided transition time moving away from younger roles while connecting with his religious heritage.
“I started to learn singing from my mom and my grandfather, who performed with barbershop quartets,” says the single actor, who enjoys exploring different cities. “I’m a musician as well so I play in some bands. Whatever work I’ve had, I’ve met so many awesome people, especially with this talented cast bringing these roles to life.”
A Bronx Tale: The Musical runs Jan. 21-Feb. 2 at the Fisher Theatre. Tickets start at $39. (313) 872-1000, ext. 0. broadwayindetroit.com.