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Of gangsters, guns and growing up: Chazz Palminteri’s A Bronx Tale

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Actor Chazz Palminteri performs his one-man play, A Bronx Tale, in which he plays 18 characters including himself as a child and the wise guy who was his mentor.
Photo: Joan Marcus

Chazz Palminteri’s A Bronx Tale, has played both on and off Broadway, in L.A., and has been turned into a movie, as well.

Twenty years after his production debuted in New York, Palminteri brought his one-man show to Las Vegas this week.

“It seemed really good, it felt really good,” he said after last night’s sold-out opening night performance at the Venetian.

While Las Vegas is known for big casinos, big restaurants, and big spectacle-scale shows, Palminteri said the city provides audiences with an intimate look at his semi-autobiographical production.

“(Comparing) On Broadway and here, the only difference is it’s a little more intimate here,” he said. “At similar places I was playing (elsewhere), there was 3,000 seats, 2,500. Here it’s nice; there’s about 750 (seats in the theater).”

“I’ve really enjoyed it, very much,” he said.

Fellow New York native and Academy Award-winning actor Robert De Niro saw Palminteri’s production at New York’s Playhouse 91 theater in 1989 and eventually convinced him to adapt the show for the silver screen.

A Bronx Tale Premiere

The film version of A Bronx Tale was released in 1993 after De Niro promised Palminteri he could play himself, and therefore star, in the film. De Niro, meanwhile, also had a leading role, while Joe Pesci had a very minor part and only appeared on screen at the end of the movie.

“I wrote it for the stage originally,” Palminteri asserted. “De Niro saw it; that’s how the movie got made.”

The actor plays 18 different characters in the stage version of A Bronx Tale, which tells the story of him growing up in a gangster-filled Italian neighborhood in 1960’s. New York.

The 90-minute production uses lighting in lieu of any set changes, and Palminteri never leaves the stage.

The closest thing to a wardrobe change comes in the form of a sport coat, which the actor wears as he walks onto the stage, then removes, and later puts back on. Meanwhile, the only prop used is a simple black chair.

While the seemingly far-fetched tale of mobsters, molotov cocktails and murder might sound extreme, Palminteri said “quite a bit” of what happens onstage happened in real life, too.

“I’d probably say about 75, 80 percent of it (actually happened),” he shrugged.

“It all stems from the killing that I saw as a kid,” he said. “I saw this man killed, it was just like you saw (on stage tonight); and I had a relationship with the wise guy, and that’s how this all started.”

While the solo show deals with just one mob-related murder – the one that a then-9-year-old Palminteri witnessed in front of his family’s apartment building – he said he has seen more than one person meet their death.

Calendar

A Bronx Tale
until Oct. 17, 8 p.m., $38.25 - $138.25
Wayne Brady Showroom, inside Venetian

He made sure he understood the question before answering. “Actually killed?” he asked. Then, his answer came without hesitation: “Three.”

While the memories of such a disturbing past might be too much for some to bear, never mind discuss in an overt, public fashion, Palminteri said publicizing his past actually helped him deal with his guilt and heavy conscience.

“Now that I’ve been doing it publically, it went away,” he said. “It doesn’t bother me anymore.”

“It’s like a catharsis,” he figured. “It’s like a dream now.”

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Melissa Arseniuk

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