Currently starring as Jane, the leading lady in the Broadway musical A Bronx Tale, 26-year-old Ariana DeBose has been on the fast-track since she moved to the Big Apple in 2011, when she was only 19.
A Bronx Tale is based on the 1993 movie, which depicts life in an Italian-American community during the turbulent era of the 1960s. The production is directed by two-time Academy Award winner Robert DeNiro and four-time Tony Award winner Jerry Zaks, who is also directing Bette Midler in the current smash Broadway revival of Hello Dolly. A Bronx Tale was written by Academy Award nominee Chazz Palminteri, who partly based the story on his childhood. Both DeNiro and Palminteri starred in the 1993 screen drama. The creative team of A Bronx Tale also includes other multiple award winners, including lead producer and music mogul Tommy Mottola. DeBose stars opposite Bobby Conte Thornton, who plays Calogero, Jane’s love interest.
DeBose and Bobby Conte Thornton (Image: Joan Marcus, 2016)
DeBose joined the cast of A Bronx Tale after her successful run in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton: An American Musical, which broke box office records and changes the course of American musical theater. The show received an unprecedented 16 Tony Award nominations, winning 11 awards, including Best Musical. Hamilton received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a Grammy Award for Best Theater Album.
“An Experience of a Lifetime”
DeBose, who was in the original company of Hamilton, was involved with that show from its early stages during the developmental workshop. She performed during the opening run at the New York Public Theater, through the Broadway debut with the original cast up until her departure in July 2016. DeBose says it’s been an experience of a lifetime to join the cast of A Bronx Tale and works closely with DeNiro and Zaks.
(Photo Credit: Monica Simoes)
“He [Robert DeNiro] was very present during our rehearsal process and our previews,” says DeBose. “It was amazing to work with both of them, and they worked great together as a team. Bob was very much into the details, and yes, he let me call him Bob. He’s a very easygoing man, and he came off to me as a big teddy bear. He is tough, but he’s a nice man who likes to act. We got along well. He can be a man of few words, but when he does speak, you know to listen. I didn’t approach him initially. I was trying to rate the room, but he was lovely. He came up to me and said, ‘Hi, I’m Bob. We’re really excited to have you.’ He has a very kind spirit. He still comes to visit the show fairly frequently.”
Before DeBose’s role in A Bronx Tale, she was cast primarily as a dancer and as an ensemble member. “I did a lot of dancing in Hamilton,” says DeBose, “When people come to see A Bronx Tale, they say, ‘Wait—we didn’t know you sing.’”
“When I arrived in New York at 19 years old, I figured out very quickly that I could work often if I did a lot of different things,” says DeBose. “If I could not just dance—if I could sing and act—that meant I could, as a young person, be an on-stage cover. I could be in their ensemble, and work, and be more valuable if I could also play a part-time lead. That’s how I look at understudying; it’s like you’re a part-time lead. You’re not a full-time lead.”
(Image: Joan Marcus, 2016)
For now, DeBose is strictly focused on her role as a leading lady. With eight shows a week and limited time to explore other opportunities, she says. “I’m taking this time to enjoy the work, because it’s not often you get to, and it’s not often I get to play a part like Jane that requires me to keep it fresh every night.”
Gwendolyn Quinn is an award-winning media consultant with a career spanning more than 25 years. She is a contributor to BlackEnterprise.com, Black Enterprise’s BE Pulse, Huffington Post, EURWEB.com, and Medium.com. Quinn is also a contributor to Souls Revealed and Handle Your Entertainment Business.