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Review - If It Only Even Runs A Minute & Ghetto Klown

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There aren't many concerts around where you can hear a full house go berserk at the promise of hearing Jill Eikenberry sing a number from Onward, Victoria. Or where the mention of the name Bruce Yeko draws spontaneous applause and the audience enjoys a running gag about Lenny Wolpe.

But the audiences for Jennifer Ashley Tepper and Kevin Michael Murphy's If It Only Even Runs A Minute series are made up of the types who would prove Applause's Eve Harrington wrong when Lee Adams has her sing, "Everybody loves a winner, but nobody loves a flop."

(That word, "flop," by the way, is considered taboo and potentially derogatory by Tepper and Murphy, who prefer "underappreciated," but since flop is a word that describes a show's financial state more than its artistic achievement, I'll feel free to use it.)

With music direction by Caleb Hoyer, the 6th edition of the series followed the now set pattern of having young talent (some with recognizable musical theatre names) perform selections from Broadway (and sometimes Off-Broadway shows) that achieved limited success, if not downright commercial failure, mixed in with guest stars who were original cast members sharing remembrances along with a song or two.

The full-on geekiness of the evening is supplied by Tepper and Murphy, who present slide-show enhanced histories of each musical. Though given with the informal excitement of a couple of fans who want to share some really cool stuff, underneath there are some legitimately interesting observations, like how many of the critics who objected to Onward, Victoria's mixing of history and fiction praised Ragtime for doing the same thing.

And speaking of Onward, Victoria, the Broadway musical based on the astonishing career of Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for President of the United States, the show's original star, Jill Eikenberry, was indeed on hand (and voraciously welcomed by the crowd) to sing her big Act I number, "Changes." Though the musical closed on opening night, Eikenberry explained how she and the company were completely emotionally invested in the production. But looking back, she can joke about how she can now get a table at Joe Allen sitting beneath her own picture.

Anne Bobby expressed similar feelings about playing the lead role in the continually-changing Smile at age 17, before singing two numbers cuts from the show. "A 17-year-old has a childhood no matter where she is," is how she explained her optimism despite the poor word-of-mouth.

Anthony Rapp was even younger when he took over the title role in The Little Prince and the Aviator, which closed in Broadway previews. "I wanna go get drunk," was the adolescent's words to his mom as they left the theatre after his final performance.

Composer/lyricist Brian Gari was on hand to sing his title song from Late Nite Comic, which he originally wrote for a stand-up who was looking to put a song into his act. Jim Stanek, who understudied Malcolm Gets in The Story of My Life, recalled how he and his fellow understudy were escorted to the 4th floor of Sardi's for the opening night party, unaware until informed by the stage manager that the main party was being held on the first floor. "It was a two-person musical and they didn't have room for the understudies and the stage manager!?!"

Two of Broadway's favorite belters were on hand. Debbie Gravitte, who sang "Life Is" from Zorba, explained how her decision to change her name from Shapiro was finalized when Harold Prince referred to her as, "The girl with the Jewish name," and Mary Testa talked about dealing with Bill Finn's quirks before blowing the house away with "Set Those Sails" from In Trousers.

Other shows represented included Brownstone (Alexis Field and Megan Kane dueting "Didn't Leave It Here"), Rachael Lily Rosenbloom (And Don't You Ever Forget It!) (Jenny Donoghue and company in "Dear Ms. Streisand"), Actor, Lawyer, Indian Chief (Jeremy Morse's "The Man in 37A") and So Long, 174th Street (Tracy Weiler leading the female ensemble in "Men").

The surprise show-stopper of the night was supplied by Lauren Marcus, performing the Styne, Comden & Green Two On The Aisle classic, "If," with a lunatic comic vivacity that zinged every rhyme and built to a maniacally funny crescendo. Hang around cabarets and piano bars long enough and you hear that one sung a lot. This was the most memorable rendition I've ever seen.

Photo of Anthony Rapp by Monica Simoes.

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When great athletes retire, it's customary to honor them with highlight reels summarizing their on-the-field achievements. And while solo playwright/performer John Leguizamo shows no sign of calling it quits, his new piece, Ghetto Klown, might be seen as his own professional highlight reel.

Wildly energetic, with combustible charm and split-second timing, Leguizamo draws the obligatory applause from his fans at the mention of each stop on his road from being an ethnic darling of the New York theatre scene to stereotyped roles in film and television on his way to earning some degree of respect as an actor. A billboard-shaped screen flashes logos from past stage triumphs such as Freak and Sexaholix... A Love Story, scenes from film work in Carlito's Way and Romeo + Juliet and one especially funny sketch from his short-lived television series, House of Buggin'.

Woven into the career summary are stories and emotional updates involving his rocky relationship with his father, his adoration of his beloved grandfather and episodes involving girlfriends, his best friend and eventually his wife.

"I love spillin' my guts out to you all. You're like my free therapy," he tells us right from the outset.

While we'll have to take his word for the accuracy of the more personal subjects of his impersonations, Leguizamo's mimicry of the Hollywood celebs he encounters are amusing, if not always flattering. Ghetto Klown gets his name from Al Pacino's criticism of his acting and another anecdote has his To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar co-star Patrick Swayze reminding the inexperienced actor of his place when he tries stealing the spotlight.

Leguizamo makes it clear in his program notes that he's fudged a few facts and the chronology of events for dramatic clarity, which is a perfectly accepted practice. However, last season's high-profile, quickly-closing Broadway revival of American Buffalo is too fresh a subject to be completely omitted.

While it's often difficult to determine how much control a director has in productions such as these, perhaps Fisher Stevens could have convinced his author/star that Ghetto Klown could use quite a bit of trimming from its 2 ½ hour length, much of which can be credited to Leguizamo's long-windedness. Still, if you've never seen his solo work live, you may be won over so soon that you'll never notice. And if you're already a fan, you've probably seen the show 2 or 3 times already, anyway.

Photo of John Leguizamo by Carol Rosegg

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