True to life: Chazz Palminteri brings his ‘Bronx Tale’ to State Theatre
Renowned actor, screenwriter, producer and playwright Chazz Palminteri brings his legendary one-man show, “A Bronx Tale,” which spawned a critically-acclaimed film of the same title, to the State Theatre Center for the Arts for one performance, 7:30 p.m. April 12.
The 1993 movie that starred Robert De Niro, who directed the film, is based on Palminteri’s 1989 play, directed by four-time Tony Award-winner Jerry Zaks.
“A Bronx Tale” is a coming-of-age story about Calogero Anello, an Italian-American boy in 1960s-era Bronx who meets a local mob boss and is torn between the temptations of organized crime and the values of his honest, hardworking father.
Charles Isherwood of The New York Times called the play “a rejuvenating act of faith in the powers of acting and storytelling.” The Associated Press described “A Bronx Tale” as “enormously entertaining. A vibrant, warmhearted saga. Palminteri conjures up a parade of appealing characters with humor, great affection and more than a little heartbreak.”
Born Calogero Lorenzo Palminteri in the Bronx, N.Y., the actor was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in “Bullets Over Broadway” (1994).
With an impressive resume of more than 60 films and television projects, including the movies, “The Usual Suspects,” “Analyze This,” “Diabolique,” “Mulholland Falls,” “Night at the Roxbury” and “Stuart Little,” and a recurring role in the television sitcom, “Modern Family.” Palminteri portrayed gangster Sonny LoSpecchio in the film, “A Bronx Tale.”
In a phone interview from his home in Bedford, N.Y., Palinteri, 66, says he struggled when starting out in show business, yet was certain it would be his future:
“I thought I’d be very successful. I knew I could act and I knew could write and direct. I just knew this was what I was made to do, and I was gonna do it. That was it. There was no fallback for me.”
Palminteri’s father, Lorenzo, a bus driver, instilled in his son a strong belief in his talent and encouraged him not to waste it. Years later, while working as a bouncer at a club in New York City, Palminteri was fired for not recognizing and allowing entry to famous talent agent Swifty Lazar. Being fired was the catalyst for Palminteri to write “A Bronx Tale,” the semi-autobiographical story of his childhood.
“I got offered a million dollars to sell [the script] and I refused,” says Palminteri. “I wanted to play Sonny and I wanted to write the screenplay.
“[Robert] De Niro walked in after I turned down a million dollars. I only had $200 in the bank. He saw [the play] and he said, ‘You should play Sonny and you should write the screenplay. I’ll play your father and I’ll direct it.’ That’s how it happened.”
In addition to roles in dramas, Palminteri enjoys comedic roles. “I love doing comedy. I cut my teeth on comedy in the 1970s.”
“A Bronx Tale: The Musical,” with book by Chazz Palminteri, music by Alan Menken, and lyrics by Glenn Slater, opened on Broadway in 2016 after premiering at the Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn, N.J.
The story of “A Bronx Tale” has an enduring popularity. The tale resonates with audiences of all ages worldwide.
“It’s a great story,” says Palminteri. “It’s a cautionary tale. It’s about the triumph of the spirit. You don’t have to be Italian and grow up in the Bronx to appreciate that.”
Palminteri is amazed by its continued success and is touched that fans embrace the characters he created.
“‘A Bronx Tale’ is a huge hit in Japan, the movie, a huge hit. They’re going to be doing the musical. Figure that out! It’s also a hit in Europe. When I went to Argentina, they loved it. I was in Saudi Arabia and they loved it.
“I’m stunned by it. But whatever it is, it’s those characters. I just wrote from my heart. I just told the story of my life.”
Palminteri says the essence, and where it all started, is the one-person show, which he’s been performing on and off for 30 years, “And that’s what I love doing. I play all 18 characters.”
Palminteri strives to help aspiring actors by running coaching sessions with a focus on how to audition. “I know what it’s like. I was there: to know you’re really good and nobody knows it.
“So I teach a master class on how to audition. I don’t charge a lot of money. I actually use some of my students in my projects. When I get an opportunity, when I see somebody who’s really good, I help them. It’s your duty to help.
“If I’m walking down the street and an actor stops me and says, ‘Can you give me some advice?,’ I’ll spend two minutes with them. It’s two minutes to you, but it’s a lifetime to them. It means a lot.”
The Chazz Palminteri Italian Restaurant, located along West. 46th Street in New York City, is a place for theatergoers to enjoy an authentic Italian meal and perhaps even Palminteri’s signature vodka.
“It’s one of the finest Italian restaurants in Manhattan,” says Palminteri, who partnered with top restaurateurs in the venture two years ago. “I tell people, it has to be great, because my name is on it. We make our own pasta and have the best steaks, as good as any steakhouse in New York City. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. It’s been wonderful.”
Future projects are in store for the actor. “I have a new TV series coming out in October with Forest Whittaker, Vincent D’Onofrio and Paul Sorvino. It’s called ‘Godfather of Harlem.’
“I’ve also written a new play and we’ll see what happens with that. Good things are happening.”
Tickets: State Theatre Center for the Arts box office, 453 Northampton St., Easton; statetheatre.org; 1-800-999-7828; 610-252-3132