The ‘Bronx Tale’ Strategy: Win Suburban Love, Not Broadway Prestige

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“A Bronx Tale” has been grossing, on average, more than $800,000 a week. Michael David, the show’s executive producer, said it has not had a losing week, although he declined to disclose the weekly running costs. For comparison, last week “Dear Evan Hansen,” which is up for best musical and eight other Tonys, took in $1.25 million in eight performances; “Hello, Dolly!” grossed $1.64 million in seven performances and is up for 10 Tonys.

Alan Menken and Glenn Slater wrote the score for “A Bronx Tale,” which began as a loosely autobiographical one-man show written and performed by Chazz Palminteri. It tells the story of Calogero, a boy taken under the wing of a gangster named Sonny. In a neighborhood rife with racial tension, Calogero ends up caught between his loving blue-collar father and the glamorous life of a gangster.

Robert De Niro made his directing debut with the movie version and played Calogero’s father. The movie became an instantly quotable hit. Go to the Bronx and say out loud, “Now, youse can’t leave,” and count the knowing nods.

Right from the start, the producers of the musical aimed their message at commuters. The marketing team blanketed Penn Station with ads that prominently displayed the names of Mr. Palminteri and Mr. De Niro, who co-directed the show with Jerry Zaks. Instead of buying newspaper ads, they concentrated on radio and on television spots on, for example, News 12, a tristate channel.

“We’re picking the people who we think we’ll speak to first and will indeed react first,’’ Mr. David explained. “So how do we get them?”

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At the Longacre Theater, home to “A Bronx Tale”: Left, Arlene Weinstein, from Westchester County, N.Y.; Joe and Carole Curcio, from Freehold, N.J.

Credit
Photographs by Ramsay de Give for The New York Times.

He knows the formula well: He was a lead producer on “Jersey Boys,” another nostalgic musical, that ran 12 years before it closed in January. And while the reviews for “A Bronx Tale” were mixed, the positive notice in The New York Times made the link crystal clear: “If you’re already mourning the imminent closing of ‘Jersey Boys,’ this is the show for you,” it read — a line prominently displayed on advertisements.

The creators of “A Bronx Tale” hope prospective ticket buyers will find geographic and generational familiarity a compelling reason to attend. “Everybody says, ‘That was me — you did my story, Chazz; I grew up there,’” Mr. Palminteri said. “Or even if they didn’t grow up there: ‘You know, I saw your musical and I called my father.’”

Arlene Weinstein, 68, a former Bronx resident, came from Westchester County in New York to see the show with her two daughters. “It was very much my life,” she said.

And you don’t need to be from the title borough to get it. As one woman shouted as she left the theater, “The bottom line is, I’m from Brooklyn and I enjoyed it.”

According to Mr. David, it’s patrons from the New York suburbs, New Jersey and Connecticut who make shows into long-running hits.

“They’re the people who go once or twice for a special anniversary or celebration,’’ he said. “They’re not the mavens. They’re not folks who can afford to go all the time. They have to pick carefully because it’s an expensive investment.”

Coming from Freehold, N.J., recently were Joe and Carole Curcio, married for 42 years, who see one or two shows a year; these tickets were a Christmas gift from their children.

“I come from Brooklyn,” Mr. Curcio, 72, said, standing outside the Longacre Theater after the show. “I’ve seen all those guys hanging out on corners and stuff.”

Mr. Curcio appreciated the show, except for one aspect.

“I thought it was very good until the part where they started calling the N-word to one another,” Mr. Curcio said.

Ms. Curcio interrupted. “But that was the time!” she said.

How long the musical’s run can continue remains to be seen. The Tony nominations tend to winnow the field; since they were announced, the musical “Amélie,” which also was shut out, closed. But “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” also based on a movie but with a built-in family audience, has been selling well, even without notice from the Tonys.

So, to paraphrase a famous line from “A Bronx Tale”: Is it better to be loved or to win Tonys?

“I do think that word-of-mouth remains in some ways the most compelling advertising for anything,” Mr. David said. “And we seem to have it. It could disappear. We seem to have it now.”

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