‘Mambo Italiano’ onstage at Westchester Broadway Theater in Elmsford, N.Y

Published: Monday, August 5, 2019 By: Linda Tuccio-Koonz Source: CT Post

An overbearing yet lovable matriarch, Maria, and her devoted husband, Gino, struggle to keep their family restaurant afloat in the musical, “Mambo Italiano.”

But that’s not the only challenge on their plates. They’re also trying to adjust to the newly-found independence of their adult grandchildren — the New Jersey-born kids they’ve raised since birth.

This story makes for a laugh-out-loud show that’s both funny and heartbreaking. Onstage at Westchester Broadway Theatre in Elmsford, N.Y., it opens Thursday, Aug. 8, and runs through Sunday, Sept. 29.

 “This musical is about family,” says Tom Polum, who wrote the book for the show with Jean Cheever. “The world changes around us, but how do we deal with that change?”

“Mambo Italiano” has been described as “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” meets “Fiddler on the Roof.” According to Cheever, she and Polum came up with the idea after a brainstorming session about works that could be adapted to the stage. “Tom suggested an independent Canadian film called ‘Mambo Italiano,’ which we both thought was really hilarious.”

The two fell in love with the film’s characters, especially an older-generation couple played by Ginette Reno and Paul Sorvino. “Tom pursued the underlying rights from the authors of the screenplay, Emile Gaudreault, and Steve Galluccio ... Although the film is based in Canada, we went about finding a setting for the show in New Jersey, which we knew had a heavy concentration of Italian Americans.”

 She and Polum did some research in Hammonton, where nearly half the residents are Italian. They spoke with folks about everything from working in an Italian-American family-owned business to raising Italian-American kids in a very American culture, she said. They learned all about the trials and tribulations of raising kids who are caught between two cultures.
 

Polum, the show’s director/choreographer, said looking at “people in a traditional culture is the grounding of the musical, but what happens to them is what is heartbreaking. In everyone’s lives, we are confronted with things that challenge our norms. Here the characters are challenged and are forced to rise to that challenge, and either accept the challenge or fail.”

Of course, you don’t have to be Italian to enjoy this musical. “‘Mambo’ is about family — what family meant in the past and how it is important today,” he said. It’s a universal concept, and people of all ages will relate to the show.

“In the end we are all the same,” he said. “Even through our cultural differences, in the end, our familial struggles are the same. Come enjoy ‘Mambo Italiano.’”