You may not recognize actor/writer Chazz Palminteri by name, but you definitely know his face — that kind of furrowed Italian-wiseguy mug that would make you swear up and down that you'd seen him whack some two-faced hooker on The Sopranos (even though he was never on the show). It was playing such a tough guy in Woody Allen's Bullets Over Broadway (1994) that earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
But the project for which Palminteri is best known — and with good, Robert DeNiro–endorsed reason — is authoring A Bronx Tale, originally a one-man stage show depicting a good kid's rough-and-tumble upbringing in the Bronx in the 1960s.
Nine-year-old Calogero Anello witnesses a shooting involving top-of-the-heap gangster Sonny, but refuses to squeal, cementing an unexpected friendship between the mobster and the moppet. "It's a story of the triumphs of the human spirit, the working man," says Palminteri, who portrayed all 12 of the main and supporting characters in the stage show.
The production caught the eye of DeNiro, who made his directorial debut with the 1993 film adaptation. Sixteen years later, Palminteri is reviving the theatrically athletic story for the stage at the Boston's Colonial Theatre. And even if he looks the part, he claims gangland is not A Bronx Tale's focus.
"This is not a gangster story," he explains to the Phoenix. "This is more about the working guy, my tribute to the working people."
Writer/actor Chazz Palminteri is perhaps best known for authoring the one-man show A Bronx Tale, which inspired the Robert DeNiro-directed film of the same name. The play originally debuted in the 1980s, and, two decades later, has been revived for a national tour with Palminteri bringing new depth to 18 separate characters - including a crime boss, a nine-year-old boy, and his bus driver father. A Bronx Tale runs March 31 - April 5 at The Colonial Theatre.
Why reviveand tour withA Bronx Talenow, 20 years after its initial debut?
I've done almost 60 movies, and over the years, anywhere I go - in Europe, the U.S., anywhere - people talk to me about A Bronx Tale and how much they loved the movie and what it meant to them, and the themes of it. I hear this constantly, and I thought, 'You know, there's a lot of people who never saw the original show. I'm still young enough to do it.' So, I relearned it, and I brought it back to Broadway [in 2007] and it was a huge hit. So I said, 'I don't want to stop yet, I want to go do this across the United States.'
The dynamics of a one-person stage show are so different from anything an actor can do on television or in a film. Can you talk a little bit about that? What do you find difficult, and also, rewarding, about doing a one-man show?
One-man shows are either really bad or really good. Because you've got to have a great story and, for whatever reason, this thing just works. It just works. And [when I first did the show in 1989] I wanted to do something really different and spectacular, something that would get me noticed as an actor. It's a very visual experience for the audience. It really touches people - you see people in the audience crying. The show is extremely funny, much funnier than the movie. I encourage people to bring their kids to see it. I have cards like one that my father had given me when I was a little boy, that say, "The saddest thing in life is wasted talent," [a famous quote from A Bronx Tale] and I hand out those cards to kids.
Obviously, both the play and the film version are highly acclaimed and still beloved by audiences. What is it about the story that YOU think resonates with people?
It's a story of the triumphs of the human spirit, the working man. This is not a gangster story; this is more about the working guy, my tribute to the working people. Maybe people associate Italian-Americans with the mafia, but the mafia is an aberration of the Italian community. The Italian community is comprised of the working people, and this is a tribute to them.
Regarding the film, why did you choose to play Sonny, above the other characters?
I knew Sonny was the great character. He was the one I most related to, and I wanted someone stronger to play Lorenzo. Obviously, I was very fortunate to get the greatest actor [Robert DeNiro].
Do you find it easier or more difficult to perform something that you yourself have written?
It's great, because I can rework it, and try to make it better.
Has the show changed at all since its original production in the 80s? As you have matured, as a performer, as a writer, as a person, has the show matured as well?
Yes, absolutely. When I first did it, I was the boy talking to the father; now I'm the father talking to the boy. I have a son who's going to be 14, I have a daughter, so it's really like I'm my father now. That resonates very strongly with me. And my father just passed away this year, so every time I get onstage, it's like I'm talking to him.
I was so excited for my kids to see the show. When they did, my son ran over to me and said, "Dad, I promise you I won't waste my talent." And that was worth everything.
A Bronx Tale runs March 31 through April 5 at the Colonial Theatre, 106 Boylston St, Boston. Call 617.880.2460.