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A CurtainUp Review
A Bronx Tale
By Elyse Sommer
Perhaps young Cologio Lorenzo Romano Alfredo Palminteri's two father figures from Bronx Tale — Lorenzo, his own strong on traditional values bus driver dad, and Sonny, the neighborhood Godfather who, at least with young Palminteri, was a kindly and influential second father— gave him the courage to refuse offers that didn't include him as an actor, even though he desperately needed the money. Then Robert DeNiro came along and opened up the solo piece, casting Palminteri as his childhood idol, Sonny. The success of that 1991 film did indeed turn Palminteri into a working actor instead of a starving one. While he didn't become a star, there were plenty of tough guy roles, the most notable one being as a well-read gangster in Woody Allen's Bullets Over Broadway—shades of Bronx Tale's Sonny who spends his time at "college" (translation: jail) reading Machiavelli.
You can see from the above why so many actors have followed in Palminteri's footsteps, creating showcase roles for themselves that noone else was willing to give them. The solo genre has also been a big draw for established stars like Billy Crystal and Whoopie Goldberg. Which brings us to Palminteri reprising his career jump-starter, this time on Broadway. With a season happily quite rich in full-featured plays and even long time Broadway soloist Jackie Mason relegated to Off-Broadway, is there really a compelling reason to bring back this sentimental tale in which even the bad guy is a good guy? Probably not.
Perhaps Palminteri who is now fairly well-known and undoubtedly financially secure but lacking the star power of a Billy Crystal, now wants to establish himself as a Broadway worthy star. Indeed, he still deftly handles the multiple roles of his original solo format and the story he tells makes a case for this gangster tale with hearteningly old-fashioned moral values (as contrasted to the more visceral takes on gangster life exemplified by the now deceased Soprano series). Here's the plot, such as it is: The narrative follows Palminteri's growing up years in the Bronx's Little Italy. The 18 roles Palminteri plays include himself as a 9-year-old and a teenager who gets involved in a touchy romance with a black girl, his father, the various neighborhood denizens and, most importantly, Sonny, the local kingpin who treats the boy with fatherly love and, yes, wisdom.
James Noone has provided an atmosphere rich replica of the Belmont Avenue landmarks highlighted in Palminteri's coming of age saga: the walkup with the stoop where 9-year-old Cologio, fascinated by the comings and goings of his neighborhood witnessed a shooting, the street corner lamp where the then popular doo-wop groups sang, and the bar where Sonny reigns supreme. The heart of the tale is the struggle between young Cologio's real father and his other almost father —the lure of Sonny's generosity with money and what the boy sees as a position of being loved by everyone but his father interprets as fear. The fact that Sonny's abbreviated name (C) trumps the long family name, indicates that Lorenzo loses his battle to keep his son away from Sonny and his colorful friends. But this being an old-fashioned morality tale (with undoubtedly a good deal of fictionalizing on Palminteri's part), C ends up taking the best from both fathers and so, this sentimental tribute to both.
Palminteri has aged well and gives a zesty performance. However, the years between the play's run at the modest Playhouse 91 have made this Bronx tale a bit worn and unnecessary —especially since the excellent DeNiro film is still available as for purchase or rental.
Try onlineseats.com for great seats to
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The Playbill Broadway YearBook
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide