Monday, August 4, 2014

John Leguizamo’s “Ghetto Klown” Gets a New Audience in Central Park

By Tami Shaloum

John Leguizamo Impersonates His Father in "Ghetto Klown"
Photo by Heather-Ann Schaeffner
The City Parks Foundation continued its incredible SummerStage programming last Monday night with a real scene-stealer: John Leguizamo, performing his acclaimed autobiographical one-man show “Ghetto Klown.” For 90 minutes, Leguizamo played about a dozen characters, danced his ass off, and bared his most intimate tales on stage, all to copious laughs and delighted shrieks. Apparently the HBO version of the show aired this March and, in a cruel conclusion, Leguizamo truncated the performance by urging the audience to go see the rest of it on HBO.

John Leguizamo Takes the Audience Through the Decades
Photo by Heather-Ann Schaeffner

Despite this slightly condensed version, Leguizamo managed to pack in enough hilarious anecdotes to entertain his audience. He took us through the decades, from the 1960s to the 90s; from his poor Queens upbringing by two ineffectual parents to his acting lessons with a hilariously brittle and raspy old woman; and from the development of his four previous one-man shows to his adventures in Hollywood. Leguizamo managed to infuse his act with both pathos and devilish fun. The vignettes of his father were particularly sad, as he told of the man who never believed his son could make something of himself, even after he finally did. Particularly revealing was the confession that his most successful creations came to be during bouts of severe depression.

Leguizamo Presents an Anecdote About Being
Arrested For Performing on a Train
Photo by Heather-Ann Schaeffner
Even though some of the stories were a bit heavy at times, Leguizamo managed to balance the light with the dark, keeping the audience in stitches. His charming persona shone through on stage as he interacted with audience members every now and again. People seemed to love shouting things at him and he handled them gracefully and humorously. His honesty lent itself to great storytelling, even as he told embarrassing stories about himself. One favorite character of mine was his “pinko commie” grandfather, who while being the most encouraging family member managed to be the most hilarious, making sure his grandson did not get too tan because “only White Latinos make it to Telemundo.”

I would recommend checking out the HBO special of “Ghetto Klown,” or even trying to catch Leguizamo live. Even though the show is four years old (it premiered on Broadway in 2011) this reintroduction feels right, as though Leguizamo had been lurking under the surface ready to pop out at any time and bust a move.

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