Gerald Schoenfeld loved to do an imitation of Martin Scorsese directing Liza Minnelli in The Act. It consisted of a man running along the lip of the stage, thumbs and forefingers extended as if he was framing the star in a shot.
At the press meet 'n' greet for Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth, which opened Aug. 2 at the Longacre for a limited run through Aug. 12, I noticed that Spike Lee, who has many things already in common with Scorsese, had adopted the Scorsese method of weaving and dodging and zooming in on theatrical truth.
Scorsese never stormed Broadway again. He returned to film on a firmer footing and made his masterpiece, "Raging Bull," while Minnelli blithely swept up the Best Actress Tony, so maybe there's something in a cinematic camaraderie for the stage.
The Spike 'n' Mike Show is a two-hour torrent of words from Tyson about where he has been the past 45 years (prison for one-fifteenth of that for a rape he claims he never committed; 15 years in miserable marriages; a favorite ear; a chaotic childhood, etc.). It would make any strong man squirm, but Tyson manfully owns up to it.
Somehow in the telling, it is riveting and funny and fascinating — and holds an audience in rapt attention. His physicality yields superb comic timing and great physical bits. His charm and presence pull the audience — as one — into his corner.
Tyson and Lee are both one-of-a-kind sort of guys visiting an alien turf called Broadway for the first time. Lee entered the picture after Tyson got the show (written by the third and current Mrs. Tyson, Kiki) up and running. Whatever the director brings to an already full table remains their little secret.
What is it like to play director to a friend of 25 years? "Wonderful experience, wonderful," the tight-lipped Lee replied. "I just had to work with Mike. I worked him. He takes great direction. And, with Mike, it's repetition repetition repetition.
"I had a great vocal coach: Her name is de'Adre Aziza. She's been in several of my films. She's in 'Red Hook Summer,' and she's really worked up Mike's diction and stuff so she was a great help. She's a vocal coach and dramaturge."
And how did he [Lee] like staging for theatre? "My first time on Broadway, and I got no complaints. I'm coming back, too. I want to do a musical one day on Broadway."
Three-time Tony-winning lighting designer Natasha Katz (the latest is for Once) is knee-deep in Broadway projects, but she knows about priorities and had absolutely no problem extricating herself a couple of days to throw some illumination on Tyson's life. "I wouldn't have passed this up for anything," she admitted. "To work with Spike Lee and Mike Tyson? No, not for anything.
"Spike is impressive. He's a genius, in fact — I really would use that word for him — and Mike's amazing. He's a hard worker. You can see that on the stage, how hard he works. He's incredible. I think he is genuinely a funny guy. He's genuinely like that. That's what's so special about all of this. He really is a champ, and he bared his soul to us. I frequently find I'm really moved by him, I have to tell ya, every time I see it."
James L. Nederlander, who produced the evening with Terry Allen Kramer and director Lee, hosted the after-party, which was held directly next door to the Longacre at Hurley's Saloon, an unpretentious little pub. Somebody must have yelled "Y'all come" because they did, like a good neighbor policy, gridlocking the merriment on the second floor and spreading it to the rooftop space above that.
Nine performances are left in the limited 12-performance run, and Nederlander noted Tyson was pulling a different demographic to theatre (always a good thing).
"I think it's a great evening," he said. "It's the real truth about a man who's got a life that's sensational. How many times have we seen a one-person show where there's a little plexiglass in front of us? Here, you wanna hang out with the guy afterward."
All that, he said, and Tyson is great to work with, too. "He's at the theatre at 2 o'clock and gets home whenever the show is over, so he's very focused. So's Spike."
It was the director who suggested a Broadway platform for Tyson to Nederlander. "Spike called me from Brazil and said, 'Let's do it.' I said, 'Only if you have a helmet.'"
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