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The Many Iterations of Chazz Palminteri's 'A Bronx Tale'


By Gina Marie Rodriguez, JerseyArts.com

originally published: 06/06/2024

The Many Iterations of Chazz Palminteri

“The saddest thing in life is wasted talent.”

Those words have served to inspire and haunt me for nearly two decades.

Any fan of "A Bronx Tale" will recognize those words immediately. Famously shared from father to son echoing the real-life mantra bestowed upon the author of “A Bronx Tale,” Chazz Palminteri by his father, what was once a simple motto has become a heightened proverb in certain circles. When I say those words haunt me, I mean it with all the grandiose encouragement a specter can offer. As a pervasive procrastinator, those words are a reminder of all that I have yet to accomplish and yet, in the same breath, they serve as a rallying cry to push forward, past the fear and judgment to just — get it done.

Some artists are on a path of constant movement, creating with each breath they take. Others are less consistent but equally as passionate, producing art on a schedule all their own. No matter the speed, they follow the path of creation, sharing their talent with the world. Whether you are familiar with its origin or not, the aforementioned quote has acted as a motivator for many a creative.

The Many Iterations of Chazz Palminteri

If you are not familiar with its origin, allow me to regale you with the tale of Chazz Palminteri’s rise to fame, something he takes with a grain of salt, mind you.



 
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Calogero Lorenzo "Chazz" Palminteri was raised in a Sicilian-American family in the Bronx, New York, spending his formative years of the 1960s around what those in-the-know might call “made men.” Whether you know much about the Mafia or not, you’ve probably heard the term bandied about, especially if you’re familiar with the work of Martin Scorcese or Francis Ford Coppola. A “made man” simply means a member of the Mafia, at its core. See also, “wise guy,” “capo,” “goodfella,” etc. A quick but important factor in becoming a “made man” is that one must commit a murder in order to be “made.” (This may not always be the case as the FBI would explain, but for the purposes of this story — this is key. Allow this storyteller to heighten the stakes). Typically, these are men most folks in the tri-state area would know to afford deference.

Chazz grew up watching and studying these men until one fateful day, at the tender age of nine, he witnessed a murder mere feet from the stoop on which he sat. Pulled away from the scene by his father near immediately, he maintains that the incident did not traumatize him as one of a more sensitive constitution might expect. Instead, the moment lived on in his mind and eventually led to the catalyst of his acting career, the inciting incident of “A Bronx Tale,” and the worldwide introduction of his talent.

The Many Iterations of Chazz Palminteri

“A Bronx Tale” first came to life as a one-man, somewhat autobiographical, show with Palminteri writing and going on to play 18 unique characters. As the actors among us know, auditioning is a tough gig. Rejection abounds in the entertainment industry but that can’t stop a performer from performing. The need to create is what has turned many an actor into a writer. Palminteri was a working actor in 1988 and while he wasn’t a household name, he was a day-player, getting cast in one-off appearances on television shows here and there. He took the money he made on those gigs and produced his own play, “A Bronx Tale.” The move paid off and everyone in Tinsel Town was vying for a piece of it. Like Stallone before him and Michaela Coel after him, Palminteri famously rejected million dollar offers from Hollywood studios hoping to purchase his intellectual property, planning to all but cut him out of the film’s journey. As fate would have it, these rejections served him well. It allowed Robert De Niro the opportunity to attend the play and approach Palminteri himself. With a simple handshake deal, the two agreed that if DeNiro were to direct it, Palminteri would stay on board as both writer and star. Thanks to that handshake, we now have a Hollywood classic. A film classic that has since been turned into a Broadway musical, also written by and starring Chazz Palminteri, marking the first time in history that the same actor who wrote the one-man show, the screenplay, and the Broadway book also played the same role in each iteration.

The Many Iterations of Chazz Palminteri

While Palminteri is currently taking his one-man-show on tour once again, the story will take on yet another life as a cinematic filming of the stage show. The new film, “A Bronx Tale: The Original One Man Show” will premiere on June 13, 2024 as the opening night feature of “De Niro Con,” a special Tribeca Film event in honor of De Niro’s 80th birthday.

Growing up as an Italian American kid, I used to watch a ton of mob movies with my father. “A Bronx Tale” and Chazz Palminteri were staples. “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent” has stayed with me until this day. I assure you, it will never leave. Journalist by day and screenwriter by night, I carry it with me as my own personal reminder to push forward and persevere.

Mr. Palminteri exudes an air of calm when he greets you and seeks to put you at ease immediately. He knows that fame can be isolating. As he told me, “I take my work really seriously but I don’t take my fame seriously.”

While I wish I could say that I hid my excitement and remained a consummate professional, I’m not sure how comfortable I am lying to our readers. It was painfully clear during our talk that I’m a huge fan and he was kind enough to allow me to geek out for a moment. More than a moment, our talk largely devolved into a screenwriting master class which I will forever treasure. How often does one get to talk to, let alone learn from their idol?



 
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We talked about “A Bronx Tale” and what a large part of his life was born out of the one incident wherein another life was lost. He holds this one-man-show close to his heart and for good reason, it is what led him to the successful life he leads today. Sure, fame and fortune don’t hurt but it’s the ability to keep creating with the means to ensure that the work sees the light of day that every artist truly dreams of.

The Many Iterations of Chazz Palminteri

Palminteri insists that if you love the movie and the musical, you’ll definitely love the one-man-show. Having been a fan of both, I am wholeheartedly looking forward to seeing the one-man-show for the first time but I have a good feeling that even if you’re unfamiliar with the film or its musical counterpart, you’ll enjoy the stage show. How impressive is it to watch one man bring eighteen different characters to life? That’s no easy feat. According to Palminteri, feedback throughout the years has informed him that audiences love it even more than his ensuing oeuvre.

“The movie’s great, the musical was great. People love it [the one-man-show] more than the movie and the musical! They see how it came to be, what was the germ of the whole thing, how it started. And when I play the eighteen roles, they actually see Calogero, I am Calogero, telling his story and playing all eighteen parts.” Palminteri beams as he speaks about his craft. It’s his sincerity that sells it.

The Many Iterations of Chazz Palminteri

Actor, writer, producer, podcaster, restaurateur. The man is a force to be reckoned with and he’s not retiring anytime soon. As he prepares for his June 15th performance of 'A Bronx Tale: A One Man Show' at Mayo Performing Arts Center, he believes that his best is yet to come, and I could not agree more. Now if you don’t mind, I will be watching the “The Chazz Palminteri Show” on YouTube so that I can learn to improve my own podcast game from the master. Somewhere in there, I’ll complete my next screenplay because it would be a shame to waste talent.

Don’t you think?

Mayo Performing Arts Center, Morristown, NJ | June 15, 2024 at 8:00 PM. Click here for tickets.




About the author: Gina Marie Rodriguez is an award-winning screenwriter, director, and actress. Her foray into filmmaking began at a young age as a way to avoid public speaking in school. From there, it grew into a love of telling stories and creating new worlds. Gina Marie boasts a Bronze Remi win from Worldfest Houston, Best Female Filmmaker from the Cosmic Film Festival, and a Best Actress in a Comedy from the Hang Onto Your Shorts Film Festival alongside nominations from the Golden Door International Film Festival, Official Latino Film and Arts Festival and Los Angeles Cinefest among others.

Content provided by Discover Jersey Arts, a project of the ArtPride New Jersey Foundation and New Jersey State Council on the Arts.




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