Autobiographical material is a renewable resource, but it replenishes only very slowly. Even a celebrity with a lifetime of accumulated gossip is lucky to get one good memoir — or two mediocre ones — out of 50 years, and the more times you go to the well, the more you’re likely to come up dry.
John Leguizamo — the hyperactive actor known for taking on supporting roles in films and all of the roles on stage — has used his own experiences as the basis for the majority of his popular one-man shows. And it’s hard to deny that, in his new Broadway production, Ghetto Klown, the bucket has returned emptier than usual. But Leguizamo knows how to use what he’s got, and through a combination of well-honed storytelling, a respectable hit-to-miss joke ratio, and energy levels inhuman for a 46-year-old, he cobbles together another show worth watching.
Some early pieces about his immigrant family in Queens and growing up as the local basketball-court jester will ring familiar to those who have seen his previous stage work, but he moves quickly through that material and into the meat of Ghetto Klown: his acting career. From soliloquies on hijacked subway intercoms to landing a role in a major production to ultimately becoming disillusioned with the industry, Leguizamo explores compelling issues like the casting travails of Latino actors and his fear of selling out. But he also relies on the backstage titillation of tell-allism. Impressions of big-name costars like Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, and Patrick Swayze accompany mostly negative anecdotes about Leguizamo’s not very happy experiences working with them on Hollywood productions. The actor is smart enough to undercut the unmistakable aftertaste of bitterness with some salty self-deprecation, as well as the sweetness of his meet-cute with his future wife, but the on-the-set tales still end up less successful than the show’s other parts.
And there are a lot of them, considering the running time is nearly two and a half hours. That is clearly far too long, but it’s a testament to Leguizamo’s irrepressible élan that it feels only slightly so. Ghetto Klown is like hitching yourself to the back of a race car: Even if you end up seeing some of the same scenery, it’s still a heckuva ride. B+
(Tickets: Telecharge.com or 800-432-7250)