This is a cautionary tale, John Leguizamo says at the beginning of Ghetto Klown, his one-man show currently in performances at the Lyceum Theater. It’s a lesson in how to not be like him. Part one-man show, part stand up comedy and part Hollywood gossip fest, Leguizamo’s fifth play summarizes his personal life and show business career, beginning in Queens and moving across the country to Los Angeles. Thoroughly and unapologetically entertaining, Ghetto Klown is an amusing and surprisingly touching show about the highs and lows in one man’s career and personal life.
Following his Broadway productions of Freak and Sexaholic, Leguizamo’s almost maniac energy has not lessened at all. He performs nonstop for two and a half hours, singing, dancing and acting countless parts, including but not limited to his parents, his grandparents, his first acting teacher and many of his co-stars over the years. Beginning with anecdotes with his childhood and his tough-loving father and progressing to his high school teacher that encouraged him to studying acting, Leguizamo is ruthless to everyone, including himself. His career as a performer began when he hijacked the conductor’s cart on a subway and treated all the passengers to imitations, and has progressed over the years to become one of the few Latin-American actors with nationwide acclaim.
Fans of Leguizamo will be satisfied by the insight into his life, including stories of his personal demons and romantic relationships. He also reminisces about studying with Lee Strasberg, his first television show on Miami Vice and his first major movie role, which involved being slapped repeatedly by Sean Penn. He also does impressive imitations of Benicio del Toro, Steven Seagal and Al Pacino. Aaron Gonzalez’s scene-setting projections, accompanied by Peter Fitzgerald’s sound design, include slideshows of photographs and images. (A particularly amusing twist of the Starbucks logo is one of the best of the night).
His gossipy Hollywood stories are entertaining, but it’s the more personal moments that truly engage the audience. Leguizamo’s tempestuous relationship with his father, as well as the ending of a childhood friendship and business partnership, reveal a vulnerability and depth to the man that is surprising. Leguizamo’s performance, and his incredible ability to inhabit characters so completely are what truly cause the show to succeed. Whether he’s mumbling as Benicio del Toro, gesturing as one of his former girlfriends or line-dancing across the stage in a honky-tonk bar in the South, his performance is admirably intense and focused.
At times Ghetto Klown is self-indulgent, but it’s impossible to not root for and even like Leguizamo. He never attempts to portray himself as a true hero, but his flaws are understandable and even endearing. The man’s drive and energy appear to be endless, so hopefully he will return to Broadway again soon.