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November 22, 2014

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If he can make Mike Tyson cry, Chazz Palminteri can move anyone to tears

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Tiffany Brown

Actor Chazz Palminteri

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Chazz Palminteri, who has acted in dozens of films, has brought his one-man play, "A Bronx Tale," to Las Vegas.

A Bronx Tale trailer

A Bronx Tale Premiere

Chazz Palminteri at Lavo in the Palazzo. Launch slideshow »

He is the man who moved Mike Tyson to tears.

Chazz Palminteri is more than that, of course. He’s the acclaimed actor who picks his projects with remarkable wisdom. He was part of the terrific cast in “The Usual Suspects” and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in “Bullets Over Broadway.”

But what is likely Palminteri’s crowning achievement is authoring the screenplay for the autobiographical film “A Bronx Tale,” which marked the directorial debut of Robert De Niro and in which Palminteri played the pivotal role of the story’s mob boss, Sonny.

Since, Palminteri has brought a stage adaptation of the film to the stage in Las Vegas. Palminteri’s richly rewarding one-man show “A Bronx Tale” opens tonight at Terry Fator Theater at the Mirage, where comics and puppets typically reign supreme. The show runs through March 20, and tickets are $39.99, $49.99 and $59.99, not including fees (go to the Mirage website for information).

This is the show that inspired Tyson to embark on his own one-man show, set to debut April 13 at MGM Grand’s Hollywood Theater. Tyson teared up during Palminteri’s performance last fall, when the show was staged at the Venetian Showroom.

“He came to see the show and really liked it a lot, and people who were around him said he was crying,” Palminteri said in a phone conversation last week. Then he laughed and added, “I heard that and went, ‘What? Wow! OK!’ If I can make Mike Tyson cry, I’ve accomplished something.”

Palminteri is slotting the latest series of “A Bronx Tale” performances into an opening in his shooting schedule for the TNT crime drama “Rizzoli & Isles,” in which he guest stars as Frank Rizzoli Jr. He’s also opened a restaurant in Baltimore, Chazz: A Bronx Original, which specializes in the food of his youth, especially pizza made with fresh ingredients and baked in a coal-fired oven. Palminteri hopes to open one of those eateries in Las Vegas, in a resort property, and don’t be surprised to see one crop up at an MGM Resorts hotel-casino.

During the interview, Palminteri talked of the road that has led him back to Las Vegas and what makes “A Bronx Tale” stand out among the multitude of shows and productions in Las Vegas.

The Kats Report: You’ve performed this show hundreds of times, on Broadway, in Las Vegas, in L.A. and on tour across the country. How do you keep mentally sharp each time out?

Chazz Palminteri: You know, I’ve done it, and I love doing it. It’s fresh every time I do it. I love the reaction that people get. I can’t explain it. I’m a pro, I get out there, and people are paying to see me. … When somebody comes to see me, it’s important to me to make sure the show is great.

TKR: Both the film and the stage show have generated almost universally positive reviews. The website Rotten Tomatoes still gives the film a 96-percent positive rating, which is really impressive and, I would expect, pretty rewarding.

C.P.: When I did the show on Broadway and then did it on the road, I got incredible reviews, but I’ve never read them. This started very early in my career, in fact, when I did “A Bronx Tale,” the movie. De Niro said to me, “If you want to save yourself a lot of pain and aggravation, don’t read the reviews.” I said, “But they’re good!” He said, “That’s worse. Just don’t read anything, trust me.” And I never forgot that.”

TKR: How are Las Vegas audiences different from those on Broadway, or on tour?

C.P.: I would say that the Broadway audiences are a little quieter (laughs). The Las Vegas audiences are great, they laugh, but sometimes they want to interact a little. They’ll yell something once in a while. I love it. They’ve been really, really great, but they want to be involved.

TKR.: There was concern at first that this show would not work in Las Vegas.

C.P.: Yep, everybody wondered if this was a good idea, but it opened up a whole new thing in Vegas for other entertainers. It’s not stand-up comedy. It’s not singing. It’s a theater piece, and I’m very, very proud of that, and the audience just loves it. Many people come back many times, to see it over and over again.

TKR: People come back, even though the story never changes. It always plays out the same way, it always ends the same way, every time. How do you explain that?

C.P.: I think it’s because this is the first time anyone actually does a whole movie onstage by himself. It’s a linear story, all the way through. Usually in a one-man show, a guy talks, maybe takes a drink of water, does a character, tells you a little about his life, tells another story. This is actually a linear story, straight through, without stopping, the whole movie.

TKR: It’s a very minimalist production, pretty much just you and the audience. Are you adding anything to the set for the Mirage stage?

C.P.: No, everything will be the same. There’s no difference. On tour, I’ve played to 3,000 people with this set. But I did the show originally with just the chair. Not even the lamppost or the sign, you know, and it worked. If I did the show right now, in my living room, it would work.

TKR: You at all interested in bringing the show to Vegas for an extended residency?

C.P.: I would be open to that, absolutely. We’re got nothing booked at the moment, but I want to do it again. It’s wonderful to be able to do it between movies and TV. I would like to be in Vegas for a while. It’s easy to get to L.A. while I’m doing my TV show, and I think I would do very well in Vegas, in fact. I would certainly enjoy it.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWithTheDish.

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