Review: John Leguizamo’s ‘Ghetto Klown’
In his third Broadway engagement (we won’t count the revival of American Buffalo, which closed after eight performances in 2008), John Leguizamo returns to tell his life story in a one-man show. But wait, hasn’t he done this before? Leguizamo’s previous shows Freak and Sexaholix… a love story focused on specific aspects of his life (his family and his love life, respectfully). This newest piece, Ghetto Klown, drops the specifics and tackles Leguizamo’s entire life. But is this repeat performance worth it? If Leguizamo is performing, the answer is yes.
When Leguizamo takes the stage and tells of his obstacles on the road to becoming an actor, he reminds of Robin Williams; this ball of energy with a rubber face was destined to do one thing in life – perform. One needs only to look to the audience for confirmation. Throughout the performance I attended, Leguizamo had the crowd at the Lyceum Theatre in stitches. Yet laughter wasn’t the strongest indicator of Leguizamo’s control over the audience. There was a palpable connection in the theater between the people in the seats and the man on stage. Leguizamo’s story is a relatable one of humble beginnings and great achievements, with the underlying and realistic theme that nothing is ever perfect.
Leguizamo vividly paints the picture: his penned one-man shows open to critical acclaim, but his father is deeply offended by his son’s portrayal of him. Despite booking one high-profile film after another, Leguizamo is often cast in drug-dealer roles, and his scenes are frequently cut in editing. What makes Leguizamo’s story worth telling is that he grows from each of these experiences, and we are presented with the “klown” that is onstage before us.
A one-man show is a risk, particularly in the current Broadway climate. However, there just isn’t room for anyone but Leguizamo on this stage. For my taste, Leguizamo can be loud-mouthed and irritatingly over the top. (I realize that to others, these qualities are a plus). However, in Ghetto Klown, Leguizamo exhibits great charm and charisma. In select moments, he reveals his heart as well, which makes for a well-rounded piece. Leguizamo is truly laying everything he’s got on the stage for a house full of strangers.
Audiences should be warned that Ghetto Klown doesn’t delve as deep into Leguizamo’s Hollywood A-list liaisons as the show’s marketing would have us believe. The piece is more about his professional struggle and how it affected his family. More of Leguizamo’s fantastic impressions would have been smart, as would more industry stories. As a whole, the piece, while lightly touching, lacked a sense of urgency and an ultimate mission. Leguizamo’s story isn’t all that tumultuous or filled with strife, at least not when compared to other successful performers. But the “klown” is here to make people laugh, and he does so without the big, red shoes.