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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Helmets would have come in handy at Hurley's for those hoping for a private audience with the champ. His was the body well-guarded. A phalanx of bruisers ushered him and his wife up the stairs to the second floor and then quickly off to a pretty inaccessible table in a side room. Few fans made it beyond the velvet ropes.
After a respectable but not overly prolonged stay, the phalanx activated again and transported the couple down the stairs and into the street of lingering fans.
There were fans already forming by the time the Tysons reached the Longacre earlier in the evening, and he rewarded the faithful with autographs. They stuck around for more autographs when the paparazzi lined up to photograph the celebs.
Illusionist and endurance artist David Blaine (Nederlander calls him "the modern-day Houdini") arrived with his fiancée Alizee Guinochet, and "CBS This Morning" co-anchor Gayle King steadied her son, Will Bumpus, who came on crutches from a fresh basketball injury.
Shortstop Derek Jeter, who autographed a fan's baseball en route to the theatre lobby, led the pin-strip parade of Yankees, followed by outfielder Andruw Jones. Pitcher C.C. Sabathia, with wife Amber, didn't know what to expect from his first Broadway opening beyond "I expect Mike to be pretty funny." (He was.) And center fielder Curtis Granderson crowed that it was his second first-night and provided his own censor effects for the first: The Mother[beep] With the Hat. It was a word there'd be more of later. Two from TV's "Third Watch" made separate entrances: Peter Schneider, just arriving in movie houses in "The Babymaker," and Nia Long, who just made a baby and is plotting her return to acting. She was escorted by her Sequoia guy, NBA basketball player Ime Udoka, and her poet-dad, Doughtry "Doc" Long. "I've known Mike forever," she relayed lightly — then: "I'm really proud of his transition, and I think that this is a really awesome way just to tell his story. I have no idea what to expect, but with Spike Lee it will be greatness."
Leon Robinson, who played Robin Givens' lover in "The Women of Brewster Place," found an old movie bro (from "The Five Heartbeats") in the lobby: Robert Townsend. "I know Mike and I know Spike, so I'm just here to support the show," said Townsend, who now only acts in a pinch. He last produced and directed "In the Hive," and "We're looking for our theatrical distribution now. It's based on a true story about some North Carolina teachers who turn some boys' lives around. It stars Michael Clarke Duncanand Loretta Devine."
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A self-professed, but bona fide, "Broadway Baby" ( Baby It's You!, Aida, Sweet Charity), Kyra Da Costa glittered up the scene properly. "I'm about ready to do Flashdance," she said. "We start next week workshopping. Then I'll do Cotton Club Parade at City Center Nov. 14-18."
The 90-year-old Jake LaMotta and his seventh wife, Denise Baker, made a point to check "the uptown competition." Their clip-and-chat evening of "Raging Bull"-ring remembrances, Lady and the Champ, closed July 29 at Richmond Shepard's Off-Broadway theatre on the East Side.
Singer-pianist Peter Cincotti showed up with a smartly turned-out Tony Danza. "Tony, you're looking good," someone shouted from the crowd clustered about the theatre entrance. "Thanks, Mom," he shot back.
Danza said he has found, and staked out for himself, a 1992 movie that hasn't been musicalized by Alan Menken ( Sister Act, Leap of Faith, Newsies). It's called "Honeymoon in Vegas," and he has the film's original writer-director Andrew Bergman at work on the Broadway version right now with songwriter Jason Robert Brown. Danza will wear two hats, smartly: he'll produce it and play the James Caan part. (A fall Toronto bow was canceled, it was announced this week, and we await word on when it will surface.)
Kenny Leon, who directed Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in Fences and Phylicia Rashad and Audra McDonald in A Raisin in the Sun — all of them to Tony Awards, said he showed up as a sign of respect for Spike Lee. "I've known Spike for a long time. We talked, and I told him I wanted to be here for his Broadway debut. It's very important as a Broadway director to support another Broadway director."
Leon expects to be back Broadway-directing next season. "We're working on Fatal Attraction, based on the Michael Douglas- Glenn Close film. James Dearden, who wrote the film, is preparing the play."
Also in attendance: Donald Trump, sportscaster Ahmad Rashad, "One Tough Cop" and media personality Bo Dietl, SPI Entertainment CEO Adam Steck, Hollywood's Meg Ryan with pop star John Mellencamp, and Tribeca Grill restaurateur Drew Nieporent.