by Mo Brady
There’s some heavy lifting going on at the Longacre Theatre. And I’m not talking about the IATSE stage crew. I mean theatrical heavy lifting: expert vocals, thrilling movement and thorough storytelling. The cast of A Bronx Tale is filled with veteran ensemble members (with credits going back to the original production of Grease.) However, none are working quite so hard or quite so impressively as the quartet of Rory Max Kaplan, Joseph Sammour, Cary Tedder and Keith White.
The show begins and ends with this quartet standing under the a street lamp. Here they are known just as the Doo-Wop Guys, providing aural context to Calogero (Adam Kaplan)’s introduction to his world. It’s hard to believe they are singing live, as their tight harmonies lock together so smoothly.
In the show’s opening number, “Belmont Avenue,” this quartet is featured downstage center with choreographer Sergio Trujillo’s hard-hitting, energetic movement. It is here that we get to revel in the talents of Cary Tedder. A veteran of Broadway’s Memphis as well as four other Broadway companies, he is easily one of musical theatre’s most exciting dancers. Although A Bronx Tale is not as dance-heavy as his previous Broadway showings, it’s awe-inspiring to watch his powerful and skillful movement.
Throughout much of the show’s first act, this quartet of denizens populate the upstage corners of the stage. Standing in the shadows or sitting on fire escapes, they provide either vocal backups or underscoring. It’s an unsung effort to provide such consistent and effective vocal support.
As the character of Calogero grows up, three members of this quartet of take on the roles of Calogero’s friends: Sally Slick (Keith White), Handsome Nick (Rory Max Kaplan) and Crazy Mario (Joseph Sammour). In just a small handful of scenes, they create three distinct characters who each connect to the audience with a unique sense of humor. Any actor worth their weight will tell you comedy is harder to perform than drama; finding the right timing to set up, deliver and land a joke requires as much technique as a triple pirouette (which is something Cary Tedder ALSO does in the show). Calogero’s trio of friends provide much of the show’s comic relief without resorting to schtick.
In the number “Ain’t It the Truth,” the trio of friends get their moment to lead the plot forward in their number. With commanding stage presence and pristine vocals, each takes a verse opposite Calogero. While both Sammour and White perform with aplomb, Kaplan is truly a standout in this number. As Handsome Nick, he gives his character as much gravitas and specificity as any of the show’s principal roles. With his incredible voice and his ease with movement, it is no doubt that we will see Rory Max Kaplan heading is own Broadway shows very soon.
There’s a lot being put on the metaphorical plates of many actors in the show. None more than Adam Kaplan, who as Calogero does incredible work leading the audience for two hours through eight years of his character’s life. But behind him are four men who seem just as able to take on the task, bringing precision to the roles that make their performances hard to resist.