Chazz Palminteri knew “A Bronx Tale,” his one-man show turned Robert DeNiro movie, would make a great Broadway musical. He just needed to find the right team to pull it off.
“I knew I had a great book for the musical,” said Palminteri, who became the first actor to play the same role in a play, feature film, and Broadway musical. “But I couldn’t write the music. I couldn’t write the lyrics. I’m not a choreographer.”
Enter eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken to write the music, three-time Tony Award nominee Glenn Slater to write the lyrics, and Tony nominee Sergio Trujillo to do the choreography. DeNiro, the legendary actor who made his directorial debut in the film adaptation, and four-time Tony winner Jerry Zaks were co-directors.
“We got all-stars,” he said. “Does that guarantee it will be a hit? No. But this is one time it all clicked.”
“A Bronx Tale” opens Tuesday for an eight-show run at the Peace Center.
It tells the story of a boy named Calogero who witnesses a murder by the mobster Sonny. The gangster later befriends him, and Calogero finds himself caught between the straight-and-narrow father he loves and the mob boss he’d love to be.
The story is autobiographical. When Palminteri was 9, he witnessed a local gangster gun down a man in broad daylight in his Bronx neighborhood. Palminteri never said anything, and the gangster later took him under his wing.
“People have been asking me for 30 years whether I was traumatized by it, but no, it was like nothing happened,” he said. “Obviously, it made an impression because I wrote about it years later. It stayed in my head.”
Palminteri said it’s been a success because it has themes everybody can relate to.
His father inspired one of the biggest themes of the musical – “the saddest thing in life is wasted talent” — and him to write the story in the first place.
“My father had seen a lot of young boys in the neighborhood die of drug overdoses. He told me that the saddest thing in life is wasted talent,” Palminteri said. “That motivated me my whole life. I wasn’t going to let my talent be wasted.”
“A Bronx Tale” is also a cautionary tale, he said.
“It’s about the choices you make and how they shape your life,” he said. “The story is as relevant today as it was in 1968, or in 1989 when I wrote the one-man play, or today.”
“A Bronx Tale”
When: Feb. 5-10
Where: Peace Center