In a bold and unexpected career move, former heavyweight champion boxer Mike Tyson teams up with director Spike Lee to conquer the theater circuit in a Broadway in Chicago production of Mike Tyson: The Undisputed Truth, which showed for only two nights at the Cadillac Palace Theater. Mike Tyson tells stories from his childhood, his career, and his tumultuous personal life on and off camera in this provocative and engrossing production.
The packed theater proves that Mike Tyson as a character is highly marketable. As the curtain rises dramatically to the tune of “Lover Boy” by Frank Sinatra, we see the iconic boxer seated center stage under a lonely spotlight in his best impression of Rodin’s Thinker. As he raises his head his face lights up, and his toothy smile is met with thunderous applause. As if answering the question on everyone’s mind, he begins by saying “I guess you all are wondering, what the hell am I going to talk about up here?” This question as it happens is not rhetorical, because probably the only information you could glean from press releases was “Mike Tyson” and “one man show”.
There is certainly no shortage of narrative material in Tyson’s life. From a childhood upbringing in New York’s tough Bronzeville neighborhood (whose motto is “Never Run, Never Quit”), to a remarkable career as the youngest heavyweight champion of the world, Tyson accomplished more before twenty five than most people achieve in a lifetime. His vast wealth and subsequent bankruptcy, the celebrities that intersected his life, the controversies that rocked his career and at times even jeopardized his freedom, are made all the richer by hearing much of the story straight from the source.
Tyson is hands down one of the most unlikely Broadway performers, and yet his comfort and charisma on stage is spellbinding. His stories felt unscripted, however there was a clearly defined arc to his story and he never got caught up or lost in any of his tales. There were some very funny moments when he berated director Lee for inserting a white family in place of his missing childhood photos, or taking present-day footage of his childhood home which is now in a gentrified area. The accompanying video and photographic footage was very well choreographed, and despite the conspicuous lack of actual boxing reels, added quite a bit of depth to the performance.
Tyson led the audience on an emotional ride, but at no point did he come off as disingenuous. If there was any criticism to his performances it would be that some parts of his life are downright uncomfortable to hear from his perspective. Lest we forget, Tyson was raised in an environment of meaningless violence, and his entire enterprise was built out of exploiting his ability to harness and unleash that violence at will (with varying levels of success re: harnessing). Many episodes he remembers with casual fondness involve robbery and merciless beatings, and despite his recent meta-celebrity it is readily apparent that his psyche has never fully graduated from the streets of Bronzeville. At times he expected support he was met with silence, and at times resorted to picking through the front rows for “someone that could relate” to his thought processes.
Unfiltered, uncomfortable, but unbelievably entertaining, Mike Tyson: The Undisputed Truth is a great look into the mind of the most feared boxer in the history of the sport. If you miss out on his 10-week tour, never fear: you can also find a lot of similar material on the James Toback documentary Tyson.
For more on the production, including tour dates and times, visit http://tysonontour.com