Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Five Guys With A Show - One-Man Show Reviews

Ghetto Klown - Lyceum Theatre - Broadway - New York, NY - **** (out of 5 stars)
Written and Performed by John Leguizamo, Directed by Fisher Stevens
Opens in London's West End Oct. 25th thru Nov. 12th 2011, Texas Feb 2012

Sex, Religion and Other Hang Ups - Theatre Passe Muraille - Toronto, ON - ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written and Performed by James Gangl, Directed by Chris Gibbs
Runs until Oct. 22nd 2011

Mickey and Judy- Toronto Fringe Festival - Tarragon Theatre Extra Space - Toronto, ON - **** (out of 5 stars)
Written and Performed by Michael Hughes
Ran until July 21st 2011. More shows to be announced soon.

Hugh Jackman in Concert - Princess of Wales Theatre - Toronto, ON - **** (out of 5 stars)
Created and Performed by Hugh Jackman, Directed by Warren Carlyle
Back on Broadway starting Oct. 25th 2011

The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs - Anspacher Theater at The Public Theater - New York, NY - ***** (out of 5 stars)
Written and Performed by Mike Daisey, Directed by Jean-Michele Gregory
Runs until Nov. 13th 2011, Returns in 2012

If you tell me it's going to be a one-man show, I will tend to shudder and run far far away. Give me a big ensemble number. Give me characters yelling at each other, interacting with each other. Give me multiple parts harmony. But don't give me one person standing alone on the stage. I picture that episode of Friends when Chandler shows up to Alex Borstein ranting a feminist one-woman diatribe at him. And some of the one-person shows I've seen have felt that way.

So I'm amazed that I went to 5 one-man shows so far this year and they not only did not make me want to run, they were all excellent in their own way.

John Leguizamo's Ghetto Klown is the 5th in his series of solo shows, though the first one I've seen, and apparently, the most personal and revealing, as he continues to reveal his personal meltdowns and career choices all while dishing the dirt on his fellow celebrity co-stars. Johnny Legz bounces around the stage with that same kinetic energy you know from his films, but he's insightful and thoughtful while never losing that urban street vibe where he originally came from. From his feelings on his family, his original hood, to his career goals and ultimate love for theatre, Ghetto Klown is a hilarious and revealing tour of the life of a grounded celeb and actor.

On the other end of the fame spectrum, James Gangl, a not famous actor trying to work his way into the game, shares what happened after he fell in love with the perfect girl while filming a Coors commercial. Gangl weaves his search for love, his devotion to his religion, and the hang-ups from mixing the two. Hence the title, Sex, Religion and Other Hang Ups, now running after being a hit at this year's Toronto Fringe Festival. Gangl has an easy going presence that's immediately likable, and he turns what first sounds like a comedy act, into something deeper and personal (and hilarious to us) as he struggles with staying true to his religion while gettin' some.

Michael Hughes' Mickey & Judy, another hit at this year's Toronto Fringe Festival, is an exquisitely intimate evening as Mickey takes us on his personal journey growing up, trying to be fabulous, and looking to Judy Garland as an idol. We get to see a sweet and fragile side of Mickey growing up, and uses the life and songs of Judy herself to build himself to the man he is today. The show becomes a warm and enrapturing cabaret with Mickey's personal struggles becoming an engaging story thread between well placed Judy Garland songs that begin to blend musical theatre storytelling within the solo show. (Disclosure: Since seeing and loving the show, I have become twitter friends with @mickehughes)

Then there's another Hugh who is taking his singing and dancing show back onto the stage. A little actor named Hugh Jackman (who starred in some movie called X-Men) brought his new solo show to Toronto, and soon will be Back on Broadway with the show. Known in the mainstream as a big action star, Hugh Jackman goes back to his musical theatre roots on the stage and sings, dances, sings, tells jokes, tells stories from his childhood, sings and dances some more and Hugh has the entire audience in rapture. Hugh Jackman knows how to command the stage and has that old-timey star quality that is rarely found these days. His voice is strong and splendid and while some of his song choices lean a little too much towards the Vegas side, when he's performing musical theatre classics (such as "Siloloquy" from Carousel, the opening number of The Music Man, or the title song from Singing in the Rain (which he really should just star in a revival of)), Hugh Jackman is in full force in the right element. His energy never lets down, and he's simply a born entertainer, backed with an 18-piece orchestra and 2 backup singers. Hugh's improv skills are snap-on as he banters back to the audiences yelling their devoted love, and proves that he really needs to stop making crappy movies and come back to the stage permanently.

While Hugh Jackman runs around the stage, dancing up a storm, Mike Daisey is a large man who sits at a table and talks. On occasion, he will take his small towel to wipe the sweat from his face, and once in a while, he will turn a page from the few sheets sitting on the table, but make no mistake, Mike Daisey's theatrical monologue The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs is absolutely fascinating, entertaining and enthralling. Daisey weaves his rants and stories of Steve Jobs and the rise and fall and rise again of Apple into a surprisingly emotionally engaging piece of theatre (with a beautiful lighting design that is subtle and yet totally obvious). Daisey loves his Apple, loves his Apple gadgets and even takes apart his Apple devices apart and puts them back together as a form of comfort. So he takes quite a bite out of Apple when he begins to investigate closely at the religion Steve Jobs built around Apple, and how Jobs got those Apple products into our hands, via the factories in China. The tales of Daisey's visit to Shenzhen China to see where Apple products are made become quite damning on Steve Jobs reputation and while Daisey has changed the ending to acknowledge Jobs' recent death, he makes no apologies for his ultimate statement, all done without sounding like a lecture.

Having been told of Daisey's amazing storytelling skills, I still could not have imagined how amazing and theatrical this show felt, and how funny, amusing, shocking and interesting a monologue about a computer guru could be. I know only wish I could see some of Daisey's former shows including the apparently amazing How Theater Failed America.

Luckily, these 5 solo shows did not fail me and I have a full new appreciation for a well created one-man show.

Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com

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