When it comes to the Bronx, Chazz Palminteri sheds his tough-guy persona.
“I have such a strong feeling and passion for ‘A Bronx Tale’ because it’s my life and it’s my parents,” he said of the musical during BroadwayCon at the Jacob Javits Center on Sunday. “And I was blessed with growing up with all these wise guys that taught me the streets.”
The 64-year-old actor has seen the story of his life evolve over 27 years from a book to a one-man show to a movie directed by Robert De Niro, and now a Broadway musical (for which De Niro is also a co-director).
While “A Bronx Tale” focuses on his relationship with his mobster mentor, Sonny, Palminteri credits his fame to his parents — specifically, his late father.
“My father and my mother saw all my successes, but it was my dad who made me who I am today, not Sonny,” he said. “Sonny guided me, but it was my dad who led by example and said, ‘Promise me you won’t waste your time.’”
Palminteri is still a big deal in the Bronx’s Belmont neighborhood, where he was raised. To prepare for the musical, he took cast members to his old stomping grounds.
“Three days after I got this job, he called me and said, ‘I’m taking you to the Bronx and showing you the neighborhood,'” said Bobby Conte Thornton, who is making his Broadway debut playing Palminteri’s character.
“Walking down the street with him, people will call him by ‘Chazz,’ or ‘C,’ or ‘Calogero,’ depending on how old they are and when they knew him from,” he said.
The show’s lyricist, Glenn Slater, also recalled how walking the streets with Palminteri as a tour guide is unlike anything else.
“It’s not exactly what it was like when he was there, but he brings it to life,” Slater said of walking the streets with Palminteri. “It’s a 20-minute story at every corner and storefront and you feel like you’ve gone in a time machine.”