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NYTG at the Broadway Opening of Latin History for Morons
New York Theatre Guide attends Opening Night for the Broadway transfer of John Leguizamo's latest solo show Latin History for Morons at Studio 54.
Attention, morons! The undisputed King of the one-man show is back on Broadway... and he's bringing bucket loads of Latino flair to the Great White Way! Last night, NYTG was invited to attend the Opening Night of Latin History for Morons at the iconic Studio 54, where Tony Award nominee and Emmy Award winner John Leguizamo is schooling theatregoers about the impact Latinos have had on American History in his own hysterical and uniquely satirical way. The great news announced today is that the schooling will continue for a little longer than expected as, due to popular demand, the production has just announced a three-week extension and will now play through to February 25, 2018 on Broadway!
For those who might assume that Latin History is a 95-minute evening class for adults, rest assured that Leguizamo also provides more than a handful of personal and touching moments, presenting interactions with his son - a victim of schoolyard bullying - and self-enlightening conversations with his shrink. He even energizes the room with latin dance intervals, showing off his tango, salsa, and meringue skills with an unashamed playfulness that is truly infectious. Latin History for Morons is an easily accessible one-man tour-de-force for any of us morons who like to be entertained whilst receiving an education.
Leguizamo has had a string of hits with his solo shows both on Broadway, off-Broadway and with televised specials. He earned Tony nominations (for both writing and acting) for Freak in 1998 and won an Emmy Award for the show's TV broadcast the following year. Ghetto Klown, Sexaholix...a love story, Spic-O-Rama, and Mambo Mouth have all proved equally popular in the New York theater scene. For director Tony Taccone, it's also not his first time at the rodeo either. He previously directed the solo shows of Sarah Jones Bridge & Tunnel and the late Carrie Fisher's Wishful Drinking (in 2009, also at Studio 54). After the show we caught up with Mr. Leguizamo and Mr. Taccone to get their thoughts on this latest solo show venture. Having drank from the well before, do Opening Nights get any easier or is there still immense pressure on a solo performer?
"I’m so glad this day has come and gone already because you know it’s mad stressful," Leguizamo beams. "The toughest nights are Opening Night and Closing Night. It’s all industry [people]. So it was fun to get this off my chest... It does get easier because you know what to expect. I mean, I’ve still got to be reminded to be present and to be in my own artistic mind, you know what I mean? Not to be doing it for others, not to give away your power - there’s all these little phrases that you say to yourself before you perform. You’ve got to be within yourself and for yourself."
And how does working with John Leguizamo compare to director Tony Taccone's previous Broadway solo shows? "I think because of my relationship with John, Latin History feels wonderfully personal," Taccone tells me. "I feel like John’s a friend of mine and I feel like the kind of dialogue that he’s inspired me to have with myself has been deep and rich and really fun. As unique a process as this has been – and by ‘unique’ I mean the fact that John re-writes his script more than any person I’ve ever encountered in my life – it’s required a certain energy to read the thing again and again and again. In a lot of other circumstances, I would imagine that would be arduous and boring and like a grind. It was not like that with this."
Some may imagine the feeling of being completely alone on a stage with no castmates to back you up as somewhat of a lonely one. It may even fill some with utter dread. And yet Leguizamo revels in it and considers the audience itself as his scene partner. "I think it’s the most authentic conversation between an artist and an audience because it’s just me and them," Leguizamo reflects. "It’s the most naked you can be. It’s the most raw you can be. It’s up to you how far you want to push the audience. And it’s up to them how far they want to be pushed."
Indeed, Leguizamo would even encourage future guests to not feel intimidated, but actively and vocally participate. The evening I attended Latin History for Morons, there was a point in the show where Leguizamo gives a historical fact about how many millions of Latinos were around in America until... and there was a brief pause and before he could give the year, a lady in the audience yelled out "Trump!"
"Oh, yeah!" Leguizamo remembers. "Well, I didn’t have a retort at the time because I didn’t totally hear her. I had heard something, but I had turned around, so I wasn’t sure. But my shows are more like 'Call and Response'. They’re more like church. Some people do feel free and they do call out and I love it! It energises the evening and it feels like a play between two people, rather than a one-man show. It gives it life in a way you’ve never seen!"
Mr. Leguizamo is truly one of the most confident and gifted performers I have ever seen on the stage, especially considering he only has himself to rely on to capture and captivate an audience's attention for a considerable length of time. It's hard to really put into words the amount of skill it takes to pull off a successful solo show, but Mr. Taccone puts it best when he says: "I just want to be around talent that just blows my mind. And John really blows my mind! The range of his skill both comedically and seriously – you can see it when he drops down to talk to his son in profoundly moving ways and then he’s having anal sex with sheep – that’s a pretty big range! So, to be able to comfortably address those events with the same level of skill is pretty amazing!"
Congratulations to John Leguizamo on yet another jewel in his crown as the King of the one-man show! May he reign for many years to come!
Latin History for Morons Tickets are now available for performances through to February 25, 2018.
(All Opening Night Photos by Tom Millward)