By Mary Ann Bourbeau
RED BANK – For Chazz Palminteri, “A Bronx Tale” is more than just a screenplay he wrote for a movie in which he starred.
It’s a semi-autobiographical tale about his conflicting and sometimes tough childhood in the New York City borough. Those who have seen the movie will remember the story, which follows an Italian-American teenager who navigates his way between two role models – his hardworking, honest, bus driver father, played in the film by Robert DeNiro, and a smooth-talking crime boss named Sonny, played by Palminteri.
In a pivotal scene, the young Italian-American boy named Calogero – Palminteri’s real first name – witnesses a mob hit but keeps his mouth shut, protecting Sonny when the police question him. Palminteri said that scene is true to life because he witnessed a mob killing when he was just 9 years old.
“I was 5 feet from them,” he said about the victim and the gunman, whom he has never named.
Palminteri never told what he saw to his father, an honest man who tried to instill working class values in him. He never went to the police either, and, therefore, was befriended by the wise guys, as he calls them.
“I used to throw dice with them,” he said. “I knew when it was fun and when it got serious, and they didn’t want me to get into trouble. I always backed off in time and I was never arrested.”
In the end, Palminteri said he made the decision to follow the straight and narrow path because of his parents.
“They always showed me a lot of love and I didn’t want to disappoint them,” he said.
Long before the story was made into a movie, Palminteri had written it as a one-man show during which he plays all 18 characters. At the time, he was having no luck with the New York theater scene, so he moved to Los Angeles. Palminteri landed a few guest spots on television shows such as “Hill Street Blues” and “Wiseguy,” but nothing permanent. When he lost his job as a nightclub bouncer, he felt his career had hit rock bottom.
“Then I remembered my dad, who always told me the saddest thing in life is wasted talent,” Palminteri said.
If he couldn’t find a good role, he would write one for himself, Palminteri decided. “A Bronx Tale” was first staged in Los Angeles in 1988; it took off when DeNiro saw the show and wanted to buy the film rights. Palminteri, who only had $200 in the bank at the time, was offered more than $1 million for the rights, but held out until it was agreed he could write the screenplay and play the role of Sonny. The rest, as they say, is history.
“I believed in my heart I could do it,” he said.
In 2007, the stage show of “A Bronx Tale” was revived and had an extended run on Broadway. Since then, Palminteri has taken it on the road. To date, he has done the show more than 800 times.
He performed at the Count Basie Theatre last year and it was so well received, he is bringing “A Bronx Tale” back to the Red Bank theater on Thursday and Friday, June 26-27.
“I literally perform the movie onstage by myself,” he said. “You’ve never seen anything like it. If you loved the movie, you will love the show even more.”
Palminteri has been seen in more than 50 movies throughout his career, including “The Usual Suspects” and “Bullets Over Broadway” for which he was nominated for an Academy Award.
Since he is a Bronx native and his wife, the former Gianna Ranaudo, hails from Hazlet, the couple expects to have some friends and family in the audience.
“I like the Count Basie Theatre,” Palminteri said. “It’s a beautiful theater and a great place to do a show.”
Palminteri and Ranaudo first met in Los Angeles as they were coming out of church, but they didn’t speak that day. Three days later, they ran into each other at a nightclub. That was 23 years and two children ago. The couple now lives in Westchester County with their two children, who are both actors. Dante, 18, can be seen in the upcoming television movie “Sharknado 2.” Daughter Gabriella, 12, has had roles on the television show “Blue Bloods.”
“A Bronx Tale” with Chazz Palminteri will be at The Count Basie Theatre, 99 Monmouth St., Red Bank at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, June 26-27. Tickets: $150 – $40. Call 732-842-9000.
Vibe writer Mary Ann Bourbeau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.