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I recently had the opportunity to visit New York City. Of course while we were there we had to see some shows! The first night we went to see the new musical, A BRONX TALE. Now, I was familiar with the story of A BRONX TALE from the 1993 movie starring Robert DeNiro and Chazz Palminteri. I liked the movie, the story is engaging and is a bit of a period piece as it’s set in the 1960s. Chazz Palminteri not only starred in the movie but he also wrote the screenplay. And before that, he wrote A BRONX TALE as a one man play. So, the story clearly had resonance and worked in different mediums. I was really looking forward to see how the creators adapted it for musical theatre. And boy was I disappointed!

Now, let me backtrack for a second, I have always been perplexed by people who consider themselves theatre devotees but don’t go to musicals. It never made sense to me. Adding music to a story should only enhance it. I’ve often said to my actors that the reason that you sing in a musical is because your emotions are so heightened that speaking won’t adequately convey your feelings. So, you sing. Well, the experience I had in that Broadway theatre was nothing like that. People sang indiscriminately with very little regard to the dramatic rhythms of the story. The entire show was loud and seemed almost afraid of giving the audience time to think, it just kept barreling along. Remember I said that A BRONX TALE was a period piece? Well, it made sense that a part of the score was in doo wop style. The show opened promisingly with evocative doo wop music but the music, and the show, quickly fell into a cookie cutter type musical that seemed to play to the lowest common emotional denominator for its audience. And, let me point out, the actors and the dancing and the singing were of a very high quality. It was Broadway after all, and the talent there is second to none. But a moving theatrical experience? Nowhere near it!

NOW I realize why some people have negative reactions to musical theatre. A BRONX TALE got some raves from some critics. But, as they say, there was no “there” there, nothing of any true emotional depth or honesty. And I guess that’s why I’m writing this column this month. To tell you that this isn’t the way it has to be. That music, lyrics and dance should work in tandem with the dramatic elements of the story to create something wonderful. I have spent my life in the theatre in musical theatre because I think it offers things that plays can’t. And I don’t mean to imply that plays are somehow lacking. (We saw two wonderful Broadway plays during the rest of our trip.) It just means that good theatre is good theatre, musical or play. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. And don’t be afraid to criticize theatre when it is dumbed down. We don’t need to perpetuate these kinds of theatrical efforts.

Speaking of good theatre, lots happening on local stages this month! Go to www.theatreallianceofbuffalo.com for more information.

Randall Kramer is the Artistic and Executive Director of MusicalFare Theatre, the President of the Board of the Arts Services Initiative, a steering committee member of the Greater Buffalo Cultural Alliance and a past President of the Theatre Alliance of Buffalo