Making his Broadway debut Chazz Palminteri plays all 18 characters in A Bronx Tale with impressive panache. His semi autobiographical reflections, although sentimentalized, is quite charming, even disturbing, but what stands out is Mr. Palminteri’s strong feeling for the old neighborhood and the forces that helped shape his character. Viewed from a distance of almost half a century his tale takes on added nostalgia that does not necessarily make for dynamic theater, but is nonetheless most entertaining.
The story written by the actor as a vehicle for himself and as a tribute to growing up in a rough neighborhood of the Bronx at 667 187th Street, just a few steps from the corner of Belmont Avenue in one direction, where Dion and the Belmonts started singing under a lamppost, and the bar Chez Joey in the other direction, where the local wiseguys hung out. A Bronx Tale, first performed in Los Angeles in 1989, established Mr. Palminteri’s unique style and was subsequently done off Broadway, before being made into a 1993 film with Robert De Niro making his directorial debut.
Mr. Palminteri takes us back to 1960 when he was just 9 year old, a year that featured Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, John F. Kennedy, the Cold War as well as a host of colorful characters that inhabited the neighborhood. Guys like Eddie Mush, JoJo the Whale and Frankie Coffeecake.
While sitting on his stoop in the middle of the block (simply rendered for the stage by James Noone) the young Calogero witnesses a murder over a parking space, but does not finger Sonny, the killer, in a police line up. “I didn’t rat,” the young boy tells his honest father, a hard working bus driver. The lowest thing in the Bronx is a rat. Sonny, a mob kingpin, admires the boy’s courage; nick names him C and takes C under his protective wing. Throughout his adolescence the young C would be torn between his loyalties to his father’s beliefs and the apparent glamour of Sonny’s lifestyle. There is also a subplot about an interracial romance that helps the boy develop his own values.
Palminteri has an easy winning style and an excellent way with the macho Italian rhythms that spice his tale displaying an interesting duality as he moves from tough guy to innocent. He makes quick switches with outstanding energy, but his performance sometimes feels a bit mannered and a somewhat forced in what appears to be an effort to keep the play physically alive.
Veteran Tony Award winning director Jerry Zaks has kept the evening moving at a furious pace that emphasizes the humor in the script. He has wisely let Palminteri, the consummate story teller, do his thing with amusing results that never fails to hold our interest.
Palminteri’s nicely shaped play with its quirky dialogue that captures the rhythms of the street makes for an interesting moral tale, but the film was much better. All the characters were played by different actors with Palminteri taking on the Sonny role and Robert Di Niro playing the mature C. A single performer attempting to inhabit all the roles cannot breathe the same life into the action, but the evening remains a compelling vehicle for the accomplished actor. When the play premiered DiNiro’s version was yet to come and we had yet to see Scorsese’s Goodfellas, or TV’s “The Sopranos,” giving A Bronx Tale a unique place in history.
By Gordin & Christiano
Originally Published in Dan"s Papers
A Bronx Tale opened on Broadway October 25th, 2007 at the Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 West 48th Street between Broadway and Eight Avenue. Tickets are available at HYPERLINK "http://www.telecharge.com" www.telecharge.com, 212-239-6200, or the theater box office.