Former suburban actor stars in Chicago debut of 'A Bronx Tale'
Italian-American actor Robert Pieranunzi scoffed when he heard years ago that Chazz Palminteri's "A Bronx Tale" was going to be adapted into a musical.
But now the former resident of Berkeley, Elmhurst and Hinsdale is starring in the first national tour of the 2016 Broadway show. "A Bronx Tale The Musical" makes a two-week stop at Chicago's Nederlander Theatre starting Tuesday, March 12.
"My first association with it was seeing the movie," Pieranunzi said. "It was almost, I don't want to say a rite of passage per se, but you talk to any Italian-American in Chicago and chances are that they've seen 'A Bronx Tale' -- even though we're not New Yorkers."
Palminteri's "A Bronx Tale" first started life as a 1989 one-man autobiographical play and then a 1993 movie. It details how the future Oscar-nominated actor and writer initially fell under the thrall of a flashy local Mafia boss, much to the chagrin of his honest and hardworking father.
"How are they going to do this? Are they going to turn a bunch of mob guys into a singing and tap-dancing chorus line?" wondered a skeptical Pieranunzi about the musical version. "But when I saw it, I realized that they did this brilliantly. It preserved the story of family and of acceptance and love for those around you. And they kept the integrity of the main characters intact."
Pieranunzi credits the songwriting team of composer Alan Menken ("Little Shop of Horrors," "Beauty and the Beast") and lyricist Glenn Slater ("School of Rock," "Sister Act") for creating a musical adaptation that sounds like 1960s New York.
"It ranges from doo-wop and the Sinatra sound to a little bit of Motown," Pieranunzi said. "It really integrates the time period we're in really beautifully."
Pieranunzi stars as a wiseguy called "Frankie Coffeecake" along with other ensemble roles. He said more than 10 of the touring cast members appeared in the original 700-performance Broadway run so they had plenty of insights into the musical's creation.
Pieranunzi admits to being star-struck whenever Palminteri shows up -- either at rehearsals or tour stops.
"(Palminteri) really doesn't have any airs about him and he's super-gracious," Pieranunzi said. "He knows this story firsthand since it's obviously his own and it's great to get his input."
Pieranunzi has jumped back and forth between office jobs and show business -- particularly with lots of theme park work in Orlando and Japan. He has performed in a Broadway tour once before (Steve Martin's bluegrass musical "Bright Star"), but that production didn't have a Chicago stop. So Pieranunzi is grateful that "A Bronx Tale" lets him come home.
He has plans to visit with speech and drama students as his Oak Park alma mater, Fenwick High School, and he's eager to have his extended family see him perform.
"There's a huge group of people coming the first Saturday night thanks to my mom, who has bought some 50 tickets and rented two busses for them to all come down," Pieranunzi said. "So I apologize to everyone in advance because I'm sure they'll be a raucous group."
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"A Bronx Tale The Musical"
Location: Nederlander Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., Chicago, (800) 775-2000 or broadway inchicago.com
Shows: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday (also March 17), 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday (also March 20), from March 12 to 24