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Monday, March 30, 2009

Mean Streets

Theater Review

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The characters that inhabit A Bronx Tale have names like Eddie Mush, Jimmy Blue Eyes, Bobby Bop and Jo Jo the Whale. They hang out together on the streets, in the bars and in the memories of another friend, "C," who tells their intertwining stories in A Bronx Tale, which ran last week at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.

The 90-minute one-man-show is the creation of Chazz Palminteri, best known to audiences for his Oscar-nominated role as a mobster with a penchant for playwriting in Woody Allen's Bullets Over Broadway. Art not only imitates life, but also does so quite well with Palminteri's entertaining yet poignant retelling of his upbringing.

Palminteri grew up a child of the '60s in the heart of the Bronx, watching his father endlessly drive a bus up and down the street in front of their brownstone apartment building while a group of teenagers practiced in the alley off Belmont singing doo-wop (they would eventually become Dion and the Belmonts). Issues like civil rights are told through C's own account of liking and attempting to date a black girl in his ethnocentric Italian, all-white neighborhood. When street lines get crossed, trouble comes in the form of choosing sides, with tragic consequences all the way around.

Given the fact that one actor is playing all of the different roles-and at a nonstop, energetic pace, at that-Palminteri excels at creating characters and differentiating them. A Bronx Tale holds and captivates the audience's attention throughout, be it C's experience as a child seeing a cold-blooded murder over a hard-to-find parking space, or his father standing up to the neighborhood boss over "running numbers" on his bus route.

"The saddest thing in life is wasting talent. Don't waste yours," C's father points out to the youngster as they navigate the mean streets of life. Sometimes a father does know best, especially when his son listens and acts upon that talent, the result being A Bronx Tale.