ATLANTIC CITY - Al Pacino had his "Godfather." Joe Pesci had his "Goodfellas" James Gandolfini had his "Sopranos."
Chazz Palminteri has "A Bronx Tale."
But unlike the mob tales Pacino, Pesci and Gandolfini made legend, Palminteri's successful Italian-American saga isn't about ruthlessness and violence. It's about trust, dignity and respect. Most of all, it's a coming-of-age story about the love between a son and father.
Palminteri's success story is also interesting because while movies and television defined actors like Pacino and Gandolfini, Palminteri was defined by his one-man theatrical version of "A Bronx Tale." Not only did he write and star in "A Bronx Tale" on and off-Broadway, but he felt so confident in it that he held out selling it to a film studio until he was cast in the role of Sonny.
That 1993 film, which starred and was directed by Robert De Niro, only added to Palminteri's legacy.
Now, the Academy Award nominated actor is back on stage in the show that he loves, performing six days a week at Harrah's Resort's The Concert Venue.
It's impossible not to compare the film and the stage version of "A Bronx Tale," but be assured they are both immensely entertaining. Set in the Bronx in the 1960s, the semiautobiographical story follows Cologero and the way he is influenced by his neighborhood, heritage, family and, most importantly, Sonny, a local mobster who takes "C" under his wing to the chagrin of C's working class father.
The set here is minimal, the main attraction is Palminteri. The actor captures you from the very moment he steps on stage, describing how he listened to Dion and the Belmonts on his stoop as he heard the sounds of a "young man romancing his woman."
Palminteri's sarcastic humor serves as the backbone for why "A Bronx Tale" works so well. No matter how serious the 90-minute drama gets - even when dealing with death and interracial dating in an Italian neighborhood - there's plenty of humor to keep the audience engaged and loose.
Toward the beginning of the show, Palminteri's acting ability is demonstrated as he introduces each character. Whether playing Rudy Ice, who got his nickname "because he was so smooth it looked like he was skating on ice," or Frankie Coffee Cakes, who got his name "because his whole face was covered in acne and looked like a Drake's coffee cake," Palminteri was amazing.
Seeing Palminteri move in and out of 18 characters is priceless. And how he does it is fascinating. The actor doesn't just change voices, he changes mannerisms, facial expressions and overall body language for each character he offers: Sonny holds out his three fingers and is always adjusting his belt; C's father Lorenzo stands straight and confident; C is less assured, loose and childlike.
All the while, there were tons of great laughs: "Eddie Mush was a degenerate gambler and the biggest loser in the world. Everything he touched turned to mush."
"Jo Jo the Whale was so fat … legend has it his shadow once killed a dog."
Most of the great movie moments come alive on stage, too, including Eddie Mush being thrown in the closet so he doesn't jinx C, the produce guy taking care of C's family because he's connected to Sonny, and the classic "test," where Sonny advises C how to tell if a woman is worth dating by looking to see if she reaches over to unlock the driver's car door.
Seeing "A Bronx Tale" in a space as intimate as Harrah's and hearing the audience's reactions adds a layer that watching the film can't. It's a mesmerizing night of live theater that requires a tremendous actor to pull off. Atlantic City does not receive actors of Palminteri's caliber very often.
Toward the end of the show's finale, you could hear a pin drop in the audience, a feat that is nearly impossible to pull off in a casino showroom.
"A Bronx Tale" is certainly not a stereotypical casino revue show, but it's one of the most interesting, entertaining and thought-provoking long-running shows in casino history.
'A Bronx Tale'
starring Chazz Palminteri
8 p.m. Tuesdays to Thursdays, and 9 p.m. Fridays to Sundays through Aug. 9 at Harrah's Resort's The Concert Venue in Atlantic City. Tickets are $40, $55 and $65 at Harrah's box office or Ticketmaster at 800-736-1420 or www.ticketmaster.com.