A Bronx Tale’s Nick Cordero and Tales of Two Paliminteris

Alan Menken is rightfully so getting a lot of press for the live action adaptation of his Disney classic Beauty and the Beast. The film opens tomorrow (early shows tonight), but one of the composer’s other works is kind of going under the radar a bit. A Bronx Tale opened a few months ago on Broadway. The musical adaptation of Chazz Paliminteri’s one-man show, which, in turn, became a 1993 beloved film starring and directed by Robert De Niro, is a throwback to the shows of yesteryear. Set in the stoops of the Bronx in the 1960s, the show is a coming-of-age mafia tale of a teen caught between the love of his father and a mob boss he idolizes – all set within a backdrop of racial tension between Italians and African Americans.

Menken wrote the score while his longtime collaborate Glenn Slater wrote the lyrics. The results are solid – a throwback to musicals of yesteryear with songs that evoke Menken’s Little Shop of Horrors songs with fine direction by Broadway icon Jerry Zacks and newcomer to the stage: De Niro. It also boasts a strong cast notably leads Bobby Conte Thornton, Hudson Loverro, Ariana Debose, Richard H. Blake and especially Nick Cordero as the multi-layered mobster Sonny. Speaking of which, this article is sort of an “inter-review.” On one hand, I’m opening up this story raving about the show, which is in baseball terms a “can of corn” – an entertaining Great White Way production that doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. On the other, it’s an interview with the star and Tony front-runner Cordero.

This isn’t the first time A-Sides has interviewed the Tony nominee nor is it the first time Cordero is starring in a role Palminteri once played in film. Three years ago, Cordero portrayed another mobster, Cheech, in the Broadway adaptation of Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway. But, it’s not like the actor is trying to solely play roles Chazz originated. It’s just happened that way. As a matter of fact, Cordero said, he wasn’t even offered A Bronx Tale by the man himself. “It was mostly Tommy Mottola,” he recalls. “He was developing the show and said ‘I want you to play Sonny.’ Then I lost the Tony, but I got a new job,” he cracked.

Earlier this month, I caught up with Cordero and asked him about A Bronx Tale, differences between working with De Niro and Allen, Paliminteri, and everything inbetween.

First off, congrats on recording the cast album. That’s always a huge accomplishment for any Broadway production.

Thanks man, I appreciate it.

Talk to me a little about the show. I mean, first off, it’s become a lot more timely as of late with its racial strife story line.

You know it’s true. We’ve been working on this for a couple years, and we had no way of knowing how relevant the source material was going to be.

The show is really straightforward and I mean that as a huge compliment. It’s really just a joy to watch and it doesn’t try to do too much. Would you agree?

Last season [with Hamilton] was so groundbreaking, and I think as it usually happens, there’s almost this reaction to that advancement. People retract and go back to the things they like the most.

You seem to be following Chazz Palminteri roles. I know you get this a lot so let’s just get this out of the way. How is this happening?

A Bronx Tale was mostly through Tommy Mottola. I was at the Tony Awards, and he tapped me on the shoulder. He introduced himself, and said he was developing a Broadway musical of it and wanted me to play Sonny. Then the lights, and I lost the Tony. But, I got a job right away. So, it was a good evening all around.

I didn’t even know Chazz until he saw Bullets in the summer of 2014. He was there, and he talked to me about A Bronx Tale. He expressed interest in me playing Sonny, but since I was already playing a gangster made famous by him already, I was concerned about repeating myself. I had asked about the father role – Lorenzo – the one De Niro was so good as in the movie. But, when he came to see Bullets, he came back to see me, and said ‘You were great, but said ‘it’s not gonna happen. You’re Sonny.” He also said how different Cheech and Sonny were – how Sonny is a very complex guy and how it was a different guy in a different time.

Cheech is so singular in what he wanted that he’d stop at nothing. Sonny is going through his own moral dilemma: showing the kid the right path of fear or love, and going through that struggle himself. There’s a few more colors with Sonny. A bit more of a palette.

Is it difficult in both cases to make these characters so likable or funny? Essentially, they’re not very good people.

In the case of Cheech, the part is so good. The minute character starts opening his mouth and talking theatre, my there was very little for me to do. The situation itself is just so funny. That role is funny. I found in both cases, the key is to make them human beings. You’re showing the humanity of these people.

Talk to me about the production differences between the two. You had Susan Stroman directing you on Bullets with, I’m sure, Woody’s insight, and Zaks and De Niro on A Bronx Tale.

The two shows are way different. I mean Bullets was a complete throwback to its time: the showgirls, the lavish sets – we had a full functional automobile on stage. It was a big production with a big budget. Woody very much played the writer’s role. He had some say in the direction and tone of the piece – he wrote the book – but he trusted Susan very much to steer the ship. But he was thrilled. He was there every day during previews and was constantly rewriting on the spot on yellow legal pads. I still have a pile of jokes he hand wrote in pencil on those legal pads that I will never lose.

With A Bronx Tale, the storytelling is a little more subdued – not that it’s not exciting. It’s important to be authentic and that’s what Bobby brought to the table. He wanted to perform the story for people who were alive at time, and for people who still live there. It was very important for him that audiences didn’t see a “saccharinized” version. At the same time, though, we were doing a Broadway musical so there had to be a seamless leap. So, the combination of Jerry and De Niro was a perfect recipe. Jerry had done this many times before, and was so great at finding the heart at comedy, but using what grounds you.

Bobby just brought you things culturally from the time that were relevant to make it more vivid and impactful. He paid so much attention to detail – he was at all the fittings, the haircuts, looked at all the fabrics. He came at it from a very cinematic point of view.

Lastly, talk to me of the dynamic of working with Menken and Slater on this and nailing the songs.

We had gone through a couple composers. Chazz was on the ground level. Him, Alan and Glen had great a great rapport. Alan is such a master. I mean he’d have things that just came out him like, ‘oh you mean something like..’ and then he’d do that Menken magic.

You realize between your last two shows and the world of talent that’s surrounded you how spoiled you’ve been right?

Oh yeah. That I know.

Well, you sir nailed this role. See you at the Tony’s.

[Laughs] Thanks man.

About A-Sides with Jon Chattman – thisisasides.com
Jon Chattman’s music/entertainment series typically features celebrities and artists (established or not) from all genres performing a track, and discussing what it means to them. This informal series focuses on the artist making art in a low-threatening, extremely informal (sometime humorous) way. No bells, no whistles — just the music performed in a random, low-key setting followed by an unrehearsed chat. In an industry where everything often gets overblown and over manufactured, Jon strives for a refreshing change. Artists featured on the series include Imagine Dragons, Melissa Etheridge, Yoko Ono, Elle King, Joe Perry, Alice Cooper, fun, Bleachers, Charli XCX, Marina and the Diamonds, and Bastille.