A Bronx Tale
On Friday, April 15th, at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown, NJ, Chazz Palminteri performed A Bronx Tale for the 999th time. After thirty-six years, a hit movie, and a successful run on Broadway, you'd think he'd be tempted to coast on his success, but his joy in returning to the show's roots of just a stage and a chair was palpable. Palminteri is a consummate storyteller, moving seamlessly from character to character and skillfully leading his audience from the show's lighthearted beginnings to the deeper emotional waters that are the heart of the show. The show opens on 187th Street and Belmont in the Bronx, a magical place for nine-year-old Calogero Lorenzo Palminteri, filled with Do Wop music and where guys with names like Frankie Coffee Cake, Rudy Ice, Eddie Mush and Jojo the Whale held court. What on the surface starts out to be a love letter to growing up Italian in the Bronx takes a darker, more complicated turn when young Chazz witnesses Sonny, the local mob boss, kill a man in a dispute over a parking space. When the police arrive at the Palminteri apartment to ask Chaz to identify the shooter, his father makes it clear that he shouldn't tell. This moment sets up the tension at the core of the piece. Chazz, as his father says, "Did a good thing for a bad man," which leads Sonny to take the boy under his wing. Sonny is a Machiavelli reading, a self-aware mob boss who simultaneously encourages Chaz to get an education and stay off the streets while teaching him to shoot craps. When Chazz's father discovers this, he confronts Sonny and demands he stay away from his son. Sonny refuses and Chaz spends the next ten years caught between his father and Sonny. Palminteri does not traffic in stereotypes. Each man, in his way, wants the best for the young man, with Sonny reminding him that the choices he makes can change his life and his father constantly admonishing him that the saddest thing is to waste his talent. Much of the play's surprise is how sometimes the "badman" is wise and progressive while his own adored father reveals deep prejudices. It's easy to forget that A Bronx Tale came several years before The Sopranos showed us an emotionally complex character rife with moral ambiguity. Indeed, it could be said that shows like A Bronx Tale paved the way for Tony Soprano. Palminteri does not shy away from the dark side of Sonny's life or how his proximity to power as Sonny rises to become the capo di tutti capi of the East Coast makes him important. Instead, he accomplishes what only the most masterful artists can: he steps out of the way. He lets the story and characters speak for themselves without indication and without making a moral judgment. He leaves it to us, the audience, to make our own decisions about who they are and what they mean. While Chazz's father and Sonny didn't agree on much, I suspect they would both be proud of the man he became and what he has accomplished. He did not waste his talent and we are all the better for it.
"A Bronx Tale"
Written and Performed by: Chazz Palminteri
April 15, 2022
The Mayo Performing Arts Center (100 South Street, Morristown, NJ
Wendy Lane Bailey has a powerful classic pop voice and a rather cavalier attitude towards the idea of genre. Wendy-Lane’s debut solo recording, Breathing, was produced by composer/arranger/pianist Michele Brourman. Her performances in venues across the country have earned critical praise for versatility and sophistication She has appeared as a guest artist on multiple recordings, including Leslie Gore’s and Susan Egan’s. She studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, HB Studios and the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center. Off-stage Wendy Lane is a creative advocate for artists. While living in Washington, D.C., she founded a regional networking organization for musicians and for five years, was the Associate Director of the Cabaret Conference at Yale University. She received a 2007 Bistro Award for outstanding achievement and was nominated for a Washington Area Music Association Award. While serving on the board of NJ’s Pioneer productions she produced, directed, and appeared in several theatre pieces. She is currently developing Hot Coffee, MS, a solo theatre piece with music in collaboration with Michele Brourman & Gretchen Cryer. In 2020, she accepted the position of Assistant Artistic Director of United Solo Theatre Festival. In addition to her work as a performer, she teaches and consults both privately and in masterclasses for singers of all genres.