Mario Cantone: Laugh Whore
Written by Mario Cantone
138 West 48th Street
Directed by Joe Mantello
Original Music by Jerry Dixon
Additional Music by Mario Cantone & Harold Lubin
Original Lyrics by Mario Cantone, Jerry Dixon, & Harold Lubin
Set Design: Robert Brill
Lighting Design: Jules Fisher & Peggy Eisenhauer
Sound Design: Tony Meola
Music Director and Orchestrator: Tom Kitt
Arrangements: Jerry Dixon & Tom Kitt
Production Manager: Aurora Productions
Production Stage Manager: William Joseph Barnes
Press: Pete Sanders Group
Marketing: HHC Marketing
Musical Staging: Lisa Leguillou
General Manager: Roy Gabay
Produced in Association with: Jonathan Burkhart
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
December 16, 2004
Mario Cantone, one of the gay escorts on Sex and the City (which I admit to not having ever seen), is one of the few stand-up comedian/singer/dancer/raconteurs who could appear solo, seize the stage like a bravura ballet star (Heís in great aerobic shape and dances and gyrates in repetitive and exhausting fashion), and kick the joke momentum up a notch until the audience roars with laughter. I happened to see this performance just one day after reviewing Billy Crystalís 700 Sundays, the other one-man autobiographical comedy with pathos. This was a much different show: a bit of commonality, with long anecdotal analyses of lost parents and extended family, and laughs with love. Cantone created a catharsis, both physically and psychologically challenging, that unleashed deep resentment, anger, loss, and love. He also strayed from the family vignettes to pop culture stand-up style, and no public persona was safe from his intense imagination and implications.
One of the funnier scenes was a take-off on Eve Enslerís plays with assistance from the audience. He also turned into Liza Minnelli, Judy Garland, Lisa-Marie Presley and Elvis, Carol Channing, and many, many more actors, singers, and even a few politicians. The political jokes were too few, perhaps a nod to political inclusion or just to stay in focus, but his wit and wile were so biting and satirical that I longed for more on the news. Cantoneís set, by Robert Brill, has about 100 balls protruding against the rear wall (a metaphor?), and they change color - purple, red, yellow, depending on the song or scenario. Original music by Cantone, Jerry Dixon, and Harold Lubin is performed with verve and vivacity by Cantone, as he jumps across his stage like a panther on Ginseng.
Joe Mantello has directed Laugh Whore, which is divided into two acts, each including three original songs. Tom Kitt is Band Leader with a band of four. Lighting by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer is creative and catchy, as the balls flash or as Cantone is caught in the glow of a spotlight in humor or horror, sorrow or sexiness. The language and action is far raunchier than I expected, but on first glimpse of his packed audience of fans, I knew this would not be chicken soup. It was not even Minestrone. It was Gazpacho.
Cantoneís upbringing in a bruising Italian family in small town, Massachusetts, is replete with fire and adultery, with Thanksgiving and gravy as glue. Our average American family, a bit stretched. Not to unleash the jokes, just imagine true-to-life facial and vocal imitations, smoking and swearing, and then a song and dance. The pop references ranged across time and culture zones, and the audience was eagerly engaged. This is not a show for the kids, but treat yourself to a night of hot humor, and warm up from the cold at the Cort Theatre.