“Remember me? Benny Blanco from the Bronx?” said the infamous line from Carlito’s Way, starring Al Pacino – and, debatably, John Leguizamo’s most famous moment in cinema too. I’d assumed that Leguizamo was a cemented figure in the film industry, making me more curious than ever to see what the Columbian-born New Yorker had in store in his new solo show, Ghetto Klown, at the Charing Cross Theatre off the back of a successful run on Broadway.
His story is told through anecdotes of personal woes, joy, erratic relationships with an unmistakably infectious intensity.
It turns out, to my own personal ignorance, that Leguizamo has been doing solo shows for quite some time before hitting the big time. Going into film reluctantly with roles in Romeo and Juliet, Moulin Rouge, Carlito’s Way and many more. His early shows on Broadway were Freak, Sexaholic… A Love Story and American Buffalo all receiving critical acclaim. In Ghetto Klown, Leguizamo documents, in true honesty, his progression from a young street joker in New York to Hollywood. His charisma and verve are evident from the moment he grooves onto stage to James Brown’s ‘Get Up’. His story is told through anecdotes of personal woes, joy, erratic relationships with an unmistakably infectious intensity. True, Leguizamo relies on his gift for impersonating characters fantastically well drawing uproars of laughter from the audience, all craving to hear the Al Pacino encounter, but this doesn’t take away any of his talent to tell a story in an entirely original way – oh yes, one more thing, Stephen Seagal and Sean Penn get the full Leguizamo treatment too.
Leguizamo has the theatrical and vocal capacity to invite you with honesty into his life of struggle with his backwards-thinking parents and his all too frank self-awareness of staying true to himself in becoming an actor. For a while, you think the show is going to be a trail of impressions purely for the cheap laugh factor, but Leguizamo deals with the serious moments of his life – most notably a scene in which he confronts his unsupportive father with ardent contempt – with believability and mesmeric power. It is obvious that this autobiographical performance is important to Leguizamo, “It’s my endless quest to examine my life, to create a history and legacy where there wasn’t one.” Whether this sounds dubiously big headed to you doesn’t really matter, because this is what defines him as a person and probably why Charing Cross Theatre was completely full of people hanging on to his every word. Without realising it, I was one of them.
Ghetto Klown runs from 25 October - 12 November at the Charing Cross Theatre
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