You may have seen notice that A Bronx Tale is currently playing at the State Theatre, and if so, you have certainly been made aware that it stars Chazz Palminteri. Who’s Chazz Palminteri? Well, he won an Oscar nomination for his very funny performance in Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway. And he is A Bronx Tale. Seeing Palminteri at the State reminded me a little bit of watching Men at Work’s Greg Ham drive a crowd wild with the saxophone riff from “Who Can It Be Now?” There are many (many, many) more famous saxophonists in the world, but when it comes to “Who Can It Be Now?”, even the Big Man himself is no Greg Ham.
A Bronx Tale is Palminteri’s “Who Can It Be Now?”, the play that earned him a national spotlight after its 1989 debut. It’s his story—with a few creative liberties taken—and he tells it solo, on stage alone with a door stoop, a lamppost, a restaurant façade, and some fancy but unobtrusive lighting and sound support. In a nutshell, it’s the story of the young Palminteri’s friendship with a leading gangster in the Bronx in the 60s: the events that pushed the two together and pulled them apart.
|a bronx tale, presented through june 7 at the state theatre, 805 hennepin ave., minneapolis. for tickets ($24-$57) and information, see hennepintheatredistrict.org.|
For a story that’s explicitly sold as having an important Life Lesson (to wit: don’t waste it) to teach us, Palminteri’s Tale is gratifyingly free of conventional heroes and villains. Palminteri’s father (played by Robert DeNiro in the 1993 film adaptation, which DeNiro also directed) is shown to be a loving role model who wants to protect his son from the lawless gangster Sonny but isn’t so holy as to be above the racial prejudice of his time; while Sonny (played by Palminteri himself in the film) is depicted as a man who may deserve love but has learned to demand fear.
Palminteri has been telling this Tale onstage for 20 years, and offstage for much longer. On this national tour, he performs with the confidence of a man who knows his stuff and who knows his stuff works. Done well, one-performer shows can exercise a peculiar, unique magnetism; such is the case here. Almost effortlessly (he does sweat a little), Palminteri holds the audience captivated. If some of the plot twists and theatrical effects are a little hoary, well, so be it: they work. At the play’s climax, people around me were gasping in shock.
This summer is turning out to be a particularly rich season for local theater. There are big, predictably satisfying productions like the Guthrie’s Intelligent Homosexual and the ever-touring Phantom of the Opera—the most gargantuan production I’ve ever seen, which seems to still be packing in the prom-dress-and-fleece-jacket crowd across the street at the Orpheum—but after the Jungle’s Shipwrecked!, Palminteri’s Bronx Tale marks the second time in recent weeks I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the power of a good story told (relatively) simply and (very) well by a performer with the kind of charismatic gusto that a thousand falling chandeliers can’t replace.
Jay Gabler (email@example.com) is the Daily Planet’s arts editor.
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