Chazz Palminteri excavates his childhood in his one-man show A Bronx Tale, at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theatre through Oct. 19. Photo by Joan Marcus
Chazz Palminteri offers a `Bronx’ cheer
Watching Chazz Palminteri come to life on stage in his one-man show A Bronx Tale, you realize how limiting movies can be.
Palminteri has made dozens of films, from The Usual Suspects to Bullets Over Broadway to the upcoming Yonkers Joe, and we haven’t begun to see nearly the shadings and colors and vitality onscreen that we see on stage at the Golden Gate Theatre.
Palminteri has been typecast by Hollywood as a tough guy, a gangster, a lawyer, a mean father – but he’s got a lot more to offer, as he demonstrates in this showcase piece, originally developed in 1989 when he was a starving actor, just fired from a bouncer job. The play did the trick, and his movie career ignited.
Robert DeNiro made his directorial debut with the movie version of A Bronx Tale, in which Palminteri starred, and now the actor has taken the story of his childhood and teen years back to the stage and to cities around the country.
In the movie version of Bronx, which tells the story of 9-yearold Calogero (later nicknamed C, even later nicknamed Chazz) witnessing a mafia murder from his front stoop at 187th Street and Belmont Avenue and his ensuing friendship with the murderer, neighborhood mob boss Sonny, Palminteri played Sonny.
It’s a cool, powerful performance. Palminteri is tough and still and more than a little scary. On stage, when Sonny is one of 18 characters Palminteri brings to life, the gangster is much livelier, more loose-limbed, not quite so imposing. In other words, he’s more human.
Oddly, Palminteri’s gallery of Bronx rogues is cartoonish for sure – even the names such as Eddie Mush, Frankie Coffecake, JoJo the Whale, Jimmy 10to2 evoke cartoon images – but it’s somehow more believable than the movie, more human.
On a set meant to evoke the fragments of memory – designer James Noone gives us a little bit of Calogero’s tenement, the neon and front window of the Chez Joey bar and a streetlight – Palminteri takes us from age 9, when he witnesses the murder and refuses to rat Sonny out to the cops, to age 17, when he’s the young lord of the ‘hood because he’s Sonny’s kid.
Palminteri is a commanding storyteller – physical and funny.
Director Jerry Zaks paces the 95-minute show well, and there’s a nice build to a fateful night that involves racial violence, romance and a long, slow goodbye. The build-up to the big finish is expertly staged by Zaks and performed by Palminteri, who grabs hold of his audience in ways the movie version never could.
If the show has a flaw, it’s the slickness. Palminteri is entertaining and fun to watch, but the emotional connection doesn’t run as deep as it could. This is a very polished production. Palminteri hits all the right notes and punctuates his story with handclaps to keep the audience alert, but this “Tale” seems more practiced than felt much of the time.
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