Once upon a time there was stickball in the "gudda," Johnny-on-the-pony, ringolevio, and everyoneï¿½s mother hanging out the windows checking to see if we were all still alive. There were fast girls with big hair, "greasers" in leather jackets, and shiny cars that make "Grease Lightnin" look like a go-kart.
Alone on stage in front of his "stoop," leaning against the lamppost that tells us it's the corner of Belmont Avenue and E. 187 St., next to the local bar where the thugs held court, stands Chazz Palminteri, still in a leather jacket, wondering how he, and we, survived it all, and "A Bronx Tale" begins.
"A Bronx Tale" actually began in 1989 as an off-Broadway play written by Palminteri himself, which was then made into a movie in 1993. Now Palminteri brings it to Broadway. A successful film actor and writer, Palminteri has appeared in "The Usual Suspects" and "Analyze This," and has three more films in production. A one-man Broadway show is an unlikely stint for him.
Broadway is used to comics who bare the pain that's hiding in their hilarious souls -- think Billy Crystal, John Leguizamo and Martin Short -- but Palminteri has created a tale about growing up with the "tough guys" that tugs at our hearts, and it is just as compelling as the stories told by the funny men.
He starts by proudly announcing that Dion and the Belmonts (the Bronx's answer to those Jersey Boys) were named for his street, and then segues into a mesmerizing, non-stop 90-minute roller coaster ride of life.
Slipping in and out of the 18 characters he portrays, sometimes having conversations with three and four at a time -- an extraordinary feat -- Palminteri recreates the hoodlums and hangers-on that competed with his father's genuineness and generosity growing up in the Bronx in early 1960s. With each shrug of the shoulders, and roll of the eyes, the actor convinces us that all the players are right in front of us, beginning with nine-year-old, traumatized Calogero Palminteri.
While sitting on his stoop waiting for his father Lorenzo, a proud hardworking bus driver, to come home, young Calogero (Chazzï¿½s formal name) witnesses a murder committed by the neighborhood capo di tutti capi, Sonny. It's this one senseless act of violence that is the centerpiece of the play, and the defining moment of Palminteri's life.
Young "C", as Sonny nicknames him, doesn't "rat" to the cops when questioned, and his own father assures him he "did a good thing," but "for a bad man." This misguided response earns "the kid" admiration from the local thugs, as well as Sonnyï¿½s protection, and despite the sound of his father's warning voice in his head, he is seduced by the fast-paced underworld of booze, bars, and broads, at the other end of the street where Sonny reigns supreme.
Palminteri weaves into his tale all the colorful voices of the gangsters in Sonnyï¿½s kingdom: Eddie Mush, Frankie Coffee Cake, and the 400 pound Jo-Jo whose "shadow once killed a dog."
Ultimately, though, the disparate voices in the actor's head reconcile to form one distinctive voice: Chazz Palminteri's and it is an eloquent one. This fine actor has created an action memoir with vignettes and characters as real as the street on which he lived. We are in this journey with him, and want another ride when it ends.
His father always told him to "Always remember what I am saying to you. The saddest thing in this world is wasted talent." Palminteri does his father proud with this tour-de-force performance written straight from the heart. His talent is undeniable; his survival is remarkable; and "A Bronx Tale" is unforgettable.
Barbara Mehlman & Geri Manus
"He (Palminteri) exudes a moment-to-moment engagement that suggests that this revival is not a lazy ego trip but a rejuvenating act of faith in the complementary powers of acting and storytelling."
New York Times
"The play does end up feeling like an elaborate pitch for a movie that has already been made."
New York Daily News
"Onstage, Palminteri not only plays himself as a 9-year-old kid but has to have conversations with himself - a task that could have made Laurence Olivier shiver in his timbers. And Palminteri, if you'll excuse the expression, ain't no Laurence Olivier......Palminteri is more a journeyman actor who has painted himself into a virtuoso corner. After a rather stilted start, he warms to the task, though some of his characters still seem more credible than others. "
New York Post
"A walk down memory lane of what was already a walk down memory lane.....At best, this is a placeholder at the Kerr, booked for a spring opening of "A Catered Affair," "
""A Bronx Tale" is merely a warmed-up pile of meatballs dished out by a tired server."
"Engaging stories told crisply and engagingly are nothing to sneeze at. This may be a thrice-told "Tale" by now, but you know what they say about the third time."
New York Sun
"'A Bronx Tale' is by now a thrice-told one, seen off-Broadway in 1989, in a subsequent movie version and now on Broadway at the Walter Kerr. Yet Chazz Palminteri's solo performance as Cologio, Sonny and 16 other characters in a memory play of childhood and youth remains remarkably gripping. "
"Broadway has not hampered the considerable storytelling abilities of Chazz Palminteri...enormously entertaining one-man show...Director Jerry Zaks moves things along quickly, capitalizing on Palminteri's conversational, easygoing manner....vibrant, warmhearted saga ."
"It's mildly entertaining and impressively acted but never quite takes the leap from nostalgia to evocative narrative."