A Review

Standin' On The Corner

By R. J. Donovan

If you had a ticket to see "A Bronx Tale" at The Colonial Theatre, you were one lucky camper.

Every once in a while, a show comes along that feels so warm and familiar, it's like meeting an old friend.  That's the incredibly heartfelt experience you have at "A Bronx Tale." 

Written and performed by Chazz Palminteri (at left) , the one-man show is a snapshot of an Italian neighborhood circa 1960.  Kennedy is in the White House, the Yankees are losing, and do-wop singers are everywhere.   At the same time, bookies are on every corner, racism is just down the block and violence is an every day occurrence.

The semi-autobiographical story takes place on the corner of East 187th Street and Belmont Avenue in The Bronx.  This is about one boy's coming of age and the colorful people he encounters -- with Palminteri playing all the characters. 

The neighborhood is populated by guys like Frankie Coffeecake, Crazy Mario, Eddie Mush,and JoJo The Whale. The boss of the streets is Sonny, a slick thug who rules with an iron first, whether he's holding court in Chez Joey, the neighborhood watering hole, or shaking down the locals.

While the story is fiction, its jumping off point is an actual incident from Palminteri's youth -- he saw one man shoot another right in front of him as he sat on his front steps. 

So after setting the scene, Palminteri introduces us to Cologio, an innocent young soul who inadvertently witnesses a murder.  When the police come around, his father downplays his son having seen anything worth sharing.  But Cologio, fired up by the excitement in the neighborhood, blurts out that he saw the whole thing. 
At the same time, he knows the rules of the street -- you don't rat somebody out.  So when he's dragged by the police to a line-up, he lies about the exact identity of the perpetrator, who he clearly knows to be Sonny. 

Sonny gets off scott free and in turn, befriends Cologio for his allegiance -- to the distinct displeasure of the boy's father.  And suddenly C, as he's dubbed, is the fair-haired boy of the street.  He knows "I did a good thing for a bad man," which causes him to head off to confession. But he also relishes his new found popularity. And privileges. And protection.

Palminteri is captivating as he both narrates the story and jumps from character to character with the clap of his hands or the drop of a shoulder.  Some of the characters have minor stage time, others more. Yet Palminteri creates each with such a vivid palette that you immediately recognize who's on stage by his physical stance, whether it involves cocking his head or extending a finger.

Proving that even bad guys have their saving graces, Sonny comes to mentor the boy.  While he may not be the best influence, he does teach C a few life lessons.  With his bus-driver father providing one side of life, his surrogate father provides another. And in the end, the young boy learns valuable lessons from both men.  We also learn that without Sonny, the 50-year-old man telling us the story wouldn't be standing in front of us at all.

Over the course of an hour and a half, Mr. P. spins a magical tale, demonstrating not only what a gifted actor he is, but what a talented writer he is as well.  He's expressive and heartwarming and commanding. And he paints a vivid picture of a long ago time and place that, while specific to the situation, is familiar to us all.

"A Bronx Tale" played The Colonial Theatre through April 5.

-- OnStage Boston



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