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A CurtainUp Review

Laugh Whore

I'll do whatever it takes.
---Mario Cantone's "mantra" now imprinted on t-shirts for anyone wanting a bit of his in your face gutsiness to rub off on them.
Mario Cantone
Mario Cantone
Mario Cantone hyper-ventilating comic style was custom made for the role of Samuel Byk in the recently revived Sondheim musical Assassins. ( review). His regular appearances on Sex and the City added a dash of spicy humor to that long running show. But Cantone in dim-sum sized portions is one thing, a two-hour Canton-ese banquet is quite another so I went to the Cort Theater anticipating a major MSG headache.

But will wonders never cease! While some serious paring down would have made the two-act Canton-ese dinner more palatable, "Chef " Mario was more often funny than not and instead of leaving me with a headache, he filled me with admiration for his remarkable energy and physical agility. I actually stopped thinking "shrill, vulgar, not theater" and found myself liking the guy. His second act family memoir, while drawn in typically broad strokes, does include flashes of reflection on unknowable family relationships, secrets and, yes, death -- all hinting that there's a serious, thoughtful man beneath the often offensively raucous, anything-for-a-laugh performer.

I suppose you could classify Laugh Whore as a cross between the various John Leguizamo and Jackie Mason solo shows that have made Cantone's comment that "so much has changed on Broadway in the last 10 years" all too true. He even comments on his solo debut as part of the continuing trend towards one-person shows generally, and those starring stand-up comics in particular -- winding up by using Eve Ensler's forthcoming Good Body as a means to turn the celebrity reader format of her Vagina Monlogues into an impromptu interactive segment to precede his windup song.

Like Jackie Mason, but quite differently, Cantone gets much of his laughs from his facial and body language. He's also better looking and sings the few songs (a collaboration with Jerry Dixon and Harold Lubin) without embarrassing himself. Unlike Jackie Mason's focus on the differences between Jews and Gentiles, Cantone worships at the altar of gay culture at its campiest. Thus he uses his considerable skills as an impersonator to give his own take on some of the standard gay icons like Joan Crawford, Liza Minnelli and, of course, Liza's mom, Judy Garland. Familiar as his subjects tend to be, his portraits are all uniquely Canton-ese. He also does some roar-inducing spins on a Cher/Tina Turner concert, Katherine Hepburn and cooking doyenne Julia Childs.

Though the show opening song "This is my life" suggests a memoir, Laugh Whore is basically a free association style hopscotching around events and people to trigger jokes, anecdotes and impersonations. The anecdotes about his Italian-American family are as no-holds barred as everything else, but there's obvious affection for his relatives, whether dead or alive. Joe Mantello's laissez-faire direction works well for the uninhibited performance style, though the already mentioned trimming would not be out of order. Robert Brill's set -- a geometric light bulb panel which Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer colorfully transform -- also rolls out a staircase and a couch in the second act. That sleek, unfussy couch speaks volumes for how far Mario Cantone has come from the circular couch or "French Provincial freight train" that was the centerpiece of the home in which he grew up.

Any show with a title that your spam blocker might question if it appeared in an e-mail subject line, can't call itself art. Laugh Whore is theatrical, it's not theater -- at least not theater as in As You Like It, in which 1950's audiences at the Cort could see with Katherine Hepburn before she became a Cantone foil -- and no doubt for a much lower ticket price. Still, you can't but applaud a performer who makes us forget, at least for a little while, the seriously unfunny state of the world we live in.

Laugh Whore
Written by and starring Mario Cantone
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
Sound design: Tony Meola
Lighting design: Jules Fisher & Peggy Eisenhauer.
Running time: 2 hours, plus one 15 minute intermission
Cort Theatre, 138 West 48th Street (Broadway/ 6th Avenue) 212/239-6200
Tuesday through Friday at 8 PM, Saturday at 2 PM and 8PM, Sunday at 3 PM
Ticket prices: Orchestra and Mezzanine $81.25, Balcony $51.25
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 10/28 pressperformance
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • This Is My Life
  • A Jim Morrison Christmas
  • H. H. Liza (Medley
  • I Aint Finished Yet
Act Two
  • Nevertheless
  • My Name Is Gumm
  • Laugh Whore
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