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December 21, 2014

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REVIEW:

Compelling ‘Bronx Tale’ is refreshingly good theater

Image

Leila Navidi

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

A Bronx Tale Premiere

Chazz Palminteri at Lavo in the Palazzo. Launch slideshow »

If You Go

  • What: “A Bronx Tale”
  • When: 8 p.m. Oct. 7-12, 15-18, 22-24
  • Where: Venetian Showroom
  • Tickets: $38.25 to $138.25; 414-9000
  • Running time: About 80 minutes; no intermission
  • Audience advisory: Adult language

Sun Coverage

I wondered why Chazz Palminteri’s “A Bronx Tale” was suddenly booked into the Venetian Showroom for a limited run this month.

Was it because Palminteri is Italian, and his semi-autobiographical solo show fits the casino’s Italianate theme? Because Wayne Brady canceled all his October dates in the showroom?

Because Palminteri felt like ending his yearlong national tour with a comfy work-play stint in Las Vegas?

Whatever the reason, this richly comic and compelling “Bronx Tale” fits in here like a bespoke Armani suit or a pair of Gucci loafers. With its doo-wop heart and street-wise soul, it’s a close cousin to “Jersey Boys” at the adjacent Palazzo.

Snazzy in a sharp charcoal suit, shooting his cuffs underneath a streetlamp at the Bronx, Palminteri situates us in 1960, where his wide-eyed 9-year-old self, Calogero Palminteri, watches over his world from a concrete stoop at the corner of 187th Street and Belmont Avenue.

After witnessing a shooting, and choosing not to rat out the culprit in a police lineup, Calogero finds himself at the wavering center of a moral Cold War between father figures. Sonny, the up-and-coming neighborhood crime boss, takes the green kid under his wing, and Lorenzo, Calogero’s upright father, a bus driver, tries to steer his son away from Sonny’s tough-guy glamour.

“A Bronx Tale” is expressly concerned with masculine emotion and sentiment. Is it better, Palminteri wonders, to be loved, or feared? (A subtheme about the tragedy of wasted talent is underdeveloped and somewhat rushed.)

Although Palminteri is the sole performer, calling this a one-man show doesn’t do it justice — the stage seems crowded with a neighborhood full of vivid characters.

Working with veteran director Jerry Zaks, Palminteri emerges as a sort of Italian Twain or Dickens, constellating a neighborhood full of quirky characters — he’s especially affectionate when detailing the wiseguys — Jojo the Whale, Frankie Coffeecake, Crazy Mario — who shoot craps at Chez Joey, the bar next-door to the stoop.

Predating “The Sopranos” by a decade, “A Bronx Tale” was first presented on stage in 1989; in 1993 it was made into a movie with Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci.

Twenty years on, Palminteri is fit and energetic, his charisma undimmed, sounding out every consonant in the Bronx patois, enacting the street scenes and bar brawls as if he’s recalling it all right here, right now.

Let’s hope “A Bronx Tale” comes up a winner for its hosts at the Venetian. And that neighboring venues take the hint and bring in short runs of quality stage shows.

However Palminteri ended up here, it’s heartening to see this caliber of acting — and genuine theater — on the Strip.

Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!

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