Mambo Italiano Westchester Broadway Theatre Theatre Review

Published: Thursday, August 29, 2019 By: Gerard Falco Source: The Theatre Guide

The Westchester Broadway Theatre is serving up Mambo Italiano through September 29th. The musical comedy is an adaptation of the 2003 screenplay by Steven Galluccio and Emile Gaudreault.  The musical production was later brought to life by the creative team of Jean Cheever and Tom Bolum along with music by James Olmstead and lyrics by Omri Schein.

The play revolves around grandparents Gino Barbieri (Bill Nolte) and Maria Barbieri (Joy Hermalyn) who immigrated to Hammonton, New Jersey from a small village in Italy to raise the two grandchildren of their deceased daughter Carmella. The play begins with the grandchildren being fully grown and working alongside their grandparents in the restaurant. The elder Barbieri’s take pride in the “Famiglia Italiana Ristorante” that they’ve operated for twenty years, and they resist any changes suggested by their grandchildren. Grandson Angelo (Alex Drost) wants to leave the restaurant, and consequently the strong family bonds, by moving away to Philadelphia and becoming a performing artist. His sister Anna (Alexandra Amadeo Frost) also suffers from her grandparents' overbearing influence and she decides to join her brother. The dilemma is familiar to many second and third-generation children of immigrants anxious to put aside the old ways and become more Americanized. It’s been the theme of countless screenplays.  Without giving away the plot, suffice it to say that this play offers a few surprising twists and turns.

The singing performances of the veteran actors playing the grandparents, Bill Nolte as Gino Barbieri and Joy Hermalyn playing Maria Barbieri, were first-rate. It would have been more enjoyable yet if the play offered Mr. Nolte’s role a few more singing roles.  Mr. Drost, as grandson Angelo, enjoyably sang and danced his way through the play. Ms. Frost, as his sister Anna, held up her end as well with her beautiful voice. It is unfortunate that her role was somewhat limited, as it would have been interesting to further explore the life of her character.

The plot takes shape when beefcake police officer Nino Paventi (Zach Schanne), a childhood friend of Angelo, appears at the local Italian street festival. He catches the eye of Alex’s now grown-up sister Anna and grandma Barbieri as well. Alas, he has been engaged for six months to tough-girl Donna (Natalie Gallo). The perceived rivalry between Donna and Anna eventually bares the fangs of grandma Barbieri and Nino’s Sicilian mother Lina Paventi (Diana DiMarzio). Ms. DiMarzio plays the role smartly and some of the best laughs come from this rivalry. Restaurant gadfly Mrs. Donelli (Adinah Alexander) and Mrs. Goldstein (Laura Stracko) also add to the humorous interplay.

The play has an energetic opening that includes the entire cast. A shout out to the ensemble players Aaron Patrick Craven, AJ Hunsucker, Corey Joseph Masklee, Halle Mastroberardino, Laura Stracko and Mackezie Rogers who jumped into their many roles enthusiastically. The play moved slowly through the first act but picked up in the second. The dream scene (or rather grandma Barbieri’s nightmare) was particularly funny. There was also one nightclub scene in the second act involving rap performers and an elderly patron (Aaron Patrick Craven) that seemed disconnected with the rest of the play.

The musical direction in this production by Ryan Edward Wise was excellent.  It was nice to see the various musicians being credited on the video screen at the end of the production. The lyrics are still timely and amusing these many years later. The sound design, by Mark Zuckerman, worked well with spoken lines, but musical lyrics were difficult to decipher at times. This was particularly true of voices sung in the higher ranges, such as Joy Hermalyn, where many of her lines, unfortunately, could not be deciphered. Costume design by Keith Neilsen met with the theme. The many wigs were hysterical and the costume worn by Lina in the dream scene was brilliant. Lighting design (Andrew Gmoser) was good. The set designs by Steve Loftus were minimalist with the result that they were not necessarily convincing, whether the scene was an Italian restaurant, street festival or nightclub.