Chazz Palminteri never gets tired of telling “A Bronx Tale.” The actor-writer, who debuted his autobiographical, one-man show 25 years ago in New York, is performing it once again locally on Saturday, Dec. 28, at Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City.
The show, which is based on Palminteri’s growing up years in the Bronx in the 1960s, brought him instant acclaim when it opened off-Broadway in 1988. The coming of age story is about a young man who must choose between his family’s values and a life in organized crime.
In the ensuing decades, Palminteri has gone on to enjoy a prolific career in movies and TV, including roles in “Bullets Over Broadway,” “The Usual Suspects,” “Analyze This” and “Modern Family,” while continuing to return to his first success.
In 1993, he wrote the screenplay for the “Bronx” film adaptation and co-starred with Robert DeNiro, who also directed. In 2007, Palminteri revived the show on Broadway, followed by a national tour and extended gig in Las Vegas. He hopes to take it to London for the first time next year.
Ahead of his latest A.C. appearance, Palminteri talks about the universal appeal of his “Tale” and how he turned down a $1 million offer to sell the movie rights to retain creative control.
Question: Why do you think “A Bronx Tale” has enjoyed such staying power?
Answer: The characters are archetypes. There’s the ultimate father, the ultimate wise guy, the boy who’s trying to come of age. It’s a cautionary tale about the saddest thing in life is wasted talent.
Alfred Hitchcock used to say there are three things you can do to an audience. If you do two out of three, you’re doing great. You can make them laugh, you can make them cry or you can scare them. In “A Bronx Tale,” I do all three.
Seeing it in person, it reaches out and grabs you by the throat and it shakes you. I recommend people bring kids who are 14 and up, because it tells them about life.
Q: Why do you think you were able to make something out of your life, and not get trapped in the underworld?
A: I had a very strong foundation with my mother and father. My mother and father were always behind me. My father is the one who writes the line on a piece of paper when I was a young boy — the saddest thing in life is wasted talent.
He always said, you have a lot of talent — don’t waste it. That always stayed in my head, and I tried not to waste it.
Q: As an acting exercise, this show is quite the workout, with you playing 18 characters. How do you prepare for each performance?
A: About a week or 10 days before the show, I start rehearsing it again. If I haven’t done it in two weeks, I’ll rehearse on the treadmill — I do it on there, because it’s a very, very physical show.
It’s voice, it’s body language, it’s gestures, it’s lighting. There’s no makeup, no changing clothes — it’s all done as an actor, from a 9-year-old boy to all the characters.
Q: Given that the show is based on your life, would you let someone else perform it?
A: Last year was the first time I gave the rights to a wonderful French actor in Paris. It was a huge hit.
When he was performing it, I was doing another film and I couldn’t get to see it. If he does it again, I’m going to make it my business to see it.
Q: You famously turned down $1 million to sell the film rights, so you could write the screenplay for the movie and play the mobster, Sonny. What was it like when Robert DeNiro told you he wanted to direct the movie, with your participation?
A: (DeNiro) came to the theater. He said it was one of the greatest one-man shows he’s seen. He said, this is a movie — we have to make this movie. I know you want to play Sonny, I know you want to write the screenplay. I think you should write the screenplay and play Sonny — you would be great at it.
I’ll play the father and direct it, and that’s how it started.