It is 1989 and Chazz Palminteri and I are working on a short monologue that he wants use for future theater auditions. It is a story from his life as a young boy growing up in the Bronx, New York – an afternoon when he witnessed a murder. Weeks after developing this monologue Chazz tells me another story as a young boy growing up in the Bronx. I tell him,
“Write that story and I’ll show you how they go together.”
“They don’t go together.”
“Trust me, they do. I’ll show you.”
And that was the beginning.
After having developed and directed two very successful autobiographical one-man shows over the past two years (“Time Flies When You’re Alive” with Paul Linke, and “No Place Like Home” with Shane McCabe), I had developed an eye and an ear for the truths that lurk deep within our own true stories.
“From a small seed a mighty trunk may grow.” – Aeschylus
For many months Chazz would bring me stories of his childhood. We’d shape each story independently. Chazz continued to write and I merged the stories until they grew into a one-man show called “A Bronx Tale.” After a year of meticulous development we were ready to mount the show. I directed the premier production of “A Bronx Tale”, in a small 40-seat theater on Hollywood Boulevard with Chazz valiantly playing more than eighteen different characters. (see the LA Times Review: http://bit.ly/21PxDn2)
The success of “A Bronx Tale” is legendary, going from an eight-week run in a 40-seat theater to a four-month run at Theatre West and then an Off-Broadway run at Playhouse 91 on the upper east side of Manhattan. Many of you saw one of those productions.
During the LA and New York runs I attended every performance and Chazz and I continued to hone both the material and the performance. Guiding and nurturing “A Bronx Tale” from the initial 3-minute monologue to the packed houses at Theatre West and Playhouse 91, was an extraordinary collaborative effort and one of the highlights of my directing career. (see the New York Times Review: http://bit.ly/1SrFfJV)
Like many hit shows, the road becomes littered with studio offers and celebrities, agents, managers and the press. Chazz and I managed to handle all of the attention from Hollywood executives and studios well enough to give us time to write the screenplay on our own, completing it just as “A Bronx Tale” was opening in New York. But when celebrities like Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro appeared with entourages in tow the landscape shifted.
Not long after completing the run in New York Chazz began to consider offers from the studios and independent producers. He sought the advice of agents and eventually chose to align himself and “A Bronx Tale” with Robert DeNiro. My days of creative collaboration with Chazz and “A Bronx Tale” came to a sudden end. Exit Mark Travis albeit with reluctance and regret.
Out of the new collaboration came the very successful film of the same name, directed by Robert DeNiro and starring both Chazz and Mr. DeNiro. It’s a good film, faithful to the tone and intention of the original one-man show yet lacking the internal rawness, vulnerability and transparency that existed in the solo show.
I take great pride in the work I did with Chazz over 20 years ago. The seed that was planted with that first short monologue was well nurtured, watered, trimmed and cultivated. Without that loving attention it would never have grown into the magnificent oak that became the hit play and the successful movie.
Today I am pleased to learn that “A Bronx Tale: The Musical” is on its way to Broadway. I had heard a year or so ago that Chazz and Mr. DeNiro were considering such a venture and now it has become a reality with a great creative team: Chazz has written the book from the text of the one-man show. Robert DeNiro is co-directing with Jerry Zaks, a veteran Broadway director. Lyrics are by Glenn Slater and music by Alan Menken. This is an impressive team and I am thrilled that such talent is carrying “A Bronx Tale” to greater heights.
As of this writing “A Bronx Tale; The Musical” has just opened at the Longacre Theatre on Broadway. I am wishing it the best of success.
I keep reminding myself to trust what I see in the seed, what I feel in the germ of an idea, what my heart tells me is possible. And I know that if I try to imagine the end, try to see the tree that will grow, I will lose sight of the seed and will either ignore it or mistreat it. Nurture the seed and the tree will take care of itself.