To merely call Chazz Palminteri an actor is a huge disservice to the New York City native, best known for A Bronx Tale, the autobiography that started out as a one-man show back when he was broke. It was recently dusted off by Palminteri and returned to its original form, in which he plays 18 different roles. It, of course, eventually evolved into a hit 1993 film directed by, and starring Robert DeNiro (with a screenplay written by Palminteri).
A couple of years ago, the former lounge singer enlisted film/theatrical composer Alan Menken to create A Bronx Tale: The New Musical, a project that debuted on Broadway in 2017 and enjoyed a run of 29 previews and 700 regular performances before closing in August 2018. It’s currently enjoying a second life as a national tour, with the most recent stop being Chicago.
A longtime film lover, Palminteri is at heart a storyteller. As as someone who indulges in this kind of art form, it warms his heart to hear the effect his words have, particularly when he learned this writer’s son wound up crying during a screening in his film class after Palminteri’s character died in the movie.
“I love hearing that because these kids weren’t even alive when I did the movie. They teach A Bronx Tale in a lot of colleges and high schools in film class [because] it shows how to be a morally better person,” he explained. “Everyone is worried about their kids going to Harvard and Yale, but they’re not worried about what’s going on morally. But in A Bronx Tale, in a way what we say without being preachy is that the choices you make will shape your life forever. That’s it. That’s why I think it’s stood the test of time. The one-man show was very successful and then the movie. And I always thought the musical would be the most successful. People would ask me why I’d say that, and I think it’s because it can reach the most amount of people and it has these operatic themes to it [like] love, a father and son [relationship], [the notion of] wasted talent and racism. I’m just so blessed that it works.”
Equal parts gangster movie, drama and coming-of-age film, A Bronx Tale is also a testament to what was going on racially at the time. The resulting success, and embrace of what is essentially part of Palminteri’s life story, surprised even him.
“Did I know that when I wrote it? Of course not. I just wrote it from my heart about what happened to me. You find out later that it means all these other things,” he said with a laughs. “You have to see these people cry. Guys—men cry, tough guys crying. I think everyone can relate to it because it takes them back to their childhood and the people they met and the places they’ve been in their life. And especially all the people they met that touched their lives and ended up where they are today. It just works.”
The silver screen did much to inform Palminteri’s craft. Thus, the following are a trio of his favorite films.
On The Waterfront (1954)
‘‘My top favorite movie of all time that I think is the best film ever made is On the Waterfront with Marlon Brando. Writing, acting, casting—that’s one of my top films.’’
The Godfather (1972)
‘‘It’s almost like a fable. It’s a tale about this family and is just so well done.’’
Shawshank Redemption (1994)
‘‘I remember reading that script and I was so impressed. It was a wonderful story about life—get busy living or get busy dying. It was a very moving film to me. I loved it.’’
Chazz Palminteri will be performing his one-man show, A Bronx Tale, on March 31
at The Paramount, 370 New York Ave., Huntington. For more information, visit www.theparamountny.com or call 631-673-7300.
Read LIW’s full feature on Chazz Palminteri.