Archive Review: A Bronx Tale

From October 2007:

The charismatic stage presence of Calogero “Chazz” Palminteri grips you from the very first moments of his one-man show A Bronx Tale; that presence is a major part of this show’s success. The titular tale is also gripping in its own right: a Mafia story of the 60s Bronx that avoids most of the worst stereotypes, coming as it does from Palminteri’s own childhood.

The character at the center of the tale is C, a stand-in for the young Palminteri. His loyalties are divided between his father Lorenzo (who is raising his son in the tough streets around 187th Street and Belmont Avenue) and the gangster Sonny (who “owns” those streets and is largely responsible for making them so tough). Lorenzo offers his son love and a sense of the worth of hard work and talent. Sonny offers him the lure of easy money, and the respect of those who fear him.

In the end, though, things aren’t so simple: Lorenzo has some old-fashioned prejudices, and Sonny is a very smart man with many positive things to teach C, towards whom he feels some genuine paternal feelings. Palminteri brings these three characters, plus some 15 others, to dramatic life in this absorbing evening of theater.

Palminteri vividly evokes the real Bronx of his youth, not some “movie” Bronx. He gets it, right down to the neighborhood’s obsession with hometown doo-wop heroes Dion & the Belmonts (who took their name from Belmont Avenue) and the racial tensions that face C as he falls in love with a black girl.

A Bronx Tale was first mounted off Broadway in 1989 and made Palminteri’s career as a writer and actor. It didn’t go to Broadway at the time; rather it became a multi-character feature film – the first ever to be directed by one of the all-time most acclaimed Italian-American actors, Robert DeNiro. In the film, Palminteri played Sonny, a performance that led to a substantial film career.

In Palminteri’s long detour into cinema, it’s clear that he lost none of his feeling for live performance. He engages the audience very directly and warmly, and gives his all with unflagging energy. I also can’t emphasize enough that the appeal of this show extends far beyond fans of The Sopranos and the Godfather saga. I’m not a particular fan of the “wise guy” genre, and I truly enjoyed this Tale.

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