'A Bronx Tale'

Father and child reunion

'A Bronx Tale'

Chazz Palminteri made a name for himself with A Bronx Tale, the drama based on his New York neighborhood and the colorful inhabitants he knew there as a boy. The 1993 film, which Robert De Niro starred in and directed, has been so popular that people still stop Palminteri and tell him about its impact on their lives. "I'm not just talkin' about New York," he says. "Or even America. I'm talkin' about all over the world. Everywhere I go. The movie has left an impression on people." So much of one that last year Palminteri chose to return to his signature piece in its original form: as a one-man stage drama in which he plays all 18 characters. With director Jerry Zaks, he remounted the show for a five-month run on Broadway, and now he's launching a 14-city national tour in Austin. He spoke with the Chronicle about the Tale's enduring appeal.

Chazz Palminteri: Bronx Tale, for whatever reason, hits on all the universal themes, and you don't have to be an Italian-American. You can be Irish, black, Chinese, anything. It talks about reaching your potential, wanting your children not to waste their talent, wanting them to be the best they can be – not in a preachy way but a way that they understand.

I've done 55 movies, and after 55 movies, everybody I meet, as soon as they meet me: "Oh, I love A Bronx Tale. Oh, it changed my son's life. I married my wife because she passed 'the door test.'" I get on a plane and as soon as they shut the door, the pilot says, "Now youse can't leave." I hear people say lines to me. The language has become part of the culture. So after all these people said so many things to me, I thought, "You know, I'm still young enough to do this; I want to do it one more time."

Austin Chronicle: What's different about doing it after so many years?

CP: The first time I did it, I was the son talking to the father. Now I'm the father talking to the son.

AC: What was it like working with Jerry Zaks?

CP: It was great. He's a brilliant director. He really knows funny. A joy to work with. He made the piece better.

AC: Can you give me an example?

CP: The Mario test, the crap game. He said, "Chazz, it's much funnier if you take more time." He said: "Trust it. It's funny. I'm telling you." And he was absolutely right. It became funnier [because] I took the time to get the reactions from each guy. It always worked, but it was never as funny as it is now.

AC: What made you want to take the show on tour?

CP: We were such a huge hit on Broadway, and we had to close

because another show was coming in, and I said, "Gee, I would have liked to have done it a little longer." When young people see it, they get so excited, and the parents talk to me about, "I love the message that your play has, about not wasting your life, about how the choices you make will shape your life forever." I talked to my agent and said: "You know what? I want to go out to the people who couldn't come and see it. I want to go to them." She said, "You really want to do it?" And I said, "Yeah." I have about four movies in the can. I said: "I have enough movies coming out. I want to do this." It was really just a calling for me to do it. I hate to sound idealistic like that, but it's the truth.

A Bronx Tale runs Sept. 3-6, Wednesday-Friday, 8pm; Saturday, 2 & 8pm, in Dell Hall at the Long Center for the Performing Arts, 701 W. Riverside. For more information, visit www.thelongcenter.org.

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A Bronx Tale, Chazz Palminteri, Long Center

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