In the 1993 film A Bronx Tale, Robert De Niro directed a hitherto little-known actor, screenwriter and former Hollywood bouncer named Chazz Palminteri, in the Bronx native’s own semi-autobiographical script about a teenager named Calogero and the two father figures in his life — his morally upright bus driver dad, and a neighborhood mob boss named Sonny, who takes the young man under his wing in the racially charged powderkeg of 1960s NYC.
The actor born Calogero Palminteri would go on to a busy career in the moving pictures, highlighted by cult favorite The Usual Suspects and an Academy Award nomination for Bullets Over Broadway — but not all of his newfound fans realized that Bronx began life as a one-man stage play; custom crafted by the struggling thespian, who performed it numerous times in his adopted city of L.A. before industry word-of-mouth carried it all the way to Broadway. In between screen projects (and side projects like Chazz: A Bronx Original, the Baltimore restaurant he opened in 2011), Palminteri has continued to bring the original solo stage version of A Bronx Tale to live audiences — and this Thursday and Friday, June 26 and 27, he returns to the Count Basie Theatre for two-nighter followup to his well received Red Bank engagement of last year.
The Drama Desk at redbankgreen spoke to the actor, writer, producer and restaurateur about projects old, new and perhaps never to be — with a Q&A around the corner.
redbankgreen: Good to see A BRONX TALE making its way back to Red Bank for another go. The fact that you’re doing an encore appearance at the Count Basie — and that you’ve added a second show this time — suggests that the relationship has been a good one for both parties. And we already know how much you enjoy putting the show in front of new audiences.
CHAZZ PALMINTERI: I have done this play, by my count, 849 times — and I have gotten, by my count, 849 standing ovations. It just rocks!
This is what made me a star…this is what really caused everything to fall into place. I had 200 dollars in the bank, and I was turning down a million bucks to let them adapt my script. But I wouldn’t do it…crazy, right? I knew that I had to play Sonny; I had to write the screenplay, or not at all. Then of course De Niro came to see the show, and the rest is history.
How many performances of this show do you average in a year? And how far afield from home have you taken it?
I do a couple of dates a month, usually…I’ll do a show within a day’s travel from home, and get to go home overnight. I’ll go to Vegas now and then; out to the west coast…but I really wanna go to the West End, and to Australia.
The movie was a huge hit, in England and Australia, in Japan, really all over the world. People really connect to the story, regardless of how far they are from the Bronx.
Well, fans of the movie should know that the stage play is a much different creature — it’s got a rhythm and an attitude all its own. We’re wondering if, given the number of times you’ve performed it, and given the foundation of the story that it sprang from, if you ever experiment with it a bit; if you’ve got more than one play’s worth of material to draw from at any given time…
Every now and then I’ll put in something new; improv some material and see if it works there. I do it without an intermission — you’ve gotta give them a good 80 to 85 minutes. Alfred Hitchcock said there are just three things you can do to an audience — you can make them laugh, you can make them cry, or you can scare them — and if you do two out of three you’ve got them where you want them. Me, I do all three, just standing there on the stage.
Looking over your filmography, we’re reminded how BULLETS OVER BROADWAY coming to Broadway has kind of re-excited interest in the picture you did with Woody Allen. We could tell you what some of our favorite Chazz Palminteri pictures are, but why don’t you clue us in on some of your own personal favorites?
Bullets over Broadway is just one of Woody’s best, I think, and I’m proud to have been a part of it. If you want to know an overlooked favorite of mine, that would be a picture called A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints — I am very proud of that one. Hurlyburly; Yonkers Joe are some others.
I’ll be heading to the UK soon to start work on a feature called The Kray Brothers. Tom Hardy will be playing both of the twins (legendary London underworld figures Ronnie and Reggie Kray, previously portrayed by Brit popstars Gary and Martin Kemp in 1990’s THE KRAYS) — and I’ll be playing Angelo Bruno, the American mob boss from Philly that the Krays had dealings with.
Since we’re down the Shore here in Jersey, we have to ask you about a mystery project that your name has been attached to for some time — it’s called THE STONE PONY, and it shows up as being “in production” several times in recent years.
The Stone Pony is just one of those pictures that can’t seem to get made. It’s been kicking around for a while; I committed to it several years ago, but nothing has been filmed, I can’t even really tell you much about it, except that it’s about a couple of guys who want to start a bar.
Tickets for the June 26 or June 27 performances of A BRONX TALE are priced from $40 to $85 (with a $150 VIP option that includes a meet-and-greet), and can be reserved right here.