Mike Tyson on Broadway? Nope, it’s not a joke.
The former heavyweight boxing champ is starring in his one-man confessional, “Undisputed Truth,” through Aug. 12.
Like his life, the show is entertaining, fascinating and messy. At the center of it all is a 46-year-old from Brooklyn with enough triumphs and tribulations to fuel a few memoirs.
Working from a script by his latest wife, Kiki, Tyson traces life from his rough childhood to his clean vegan living today in Las Vegas. “I wanted to call the show ‘Boxing, Bitches and Lawsuits,’” he says in the opening moments.
That would fit. Along the way, there are memories of robberies, juvie hall, whores, heavyweight boxing glories, cocaine, facial tattoos and the ear-chomping incident with fighter Evander Holyfield. Touching moments come when he speaks of his mother or children or his beloved mentor, Cus D’Amato.
Save for his cameo in “The Hangover,” Tyson is not an actor. He tends to race through lines, mumbles and tacks the word “Man” at the beginning of nearly every sentence for emphasis.
Kiki Tyson does him no favor by putting overly poetic words into his mouth — including ones about his “dark dreams.” It just rings false. On the other hand, it sounds exactly like the Baddest Man on the Planet when he says, “I’m sweating up here like a pimply ass ho.” The soaked-through pink dress shirt under his blue jacket proves he means it.
But Iron Mike is gifted with iron-clad charisma and can work an audience. He dances jigs and twists his high-pitched Baby Huey voice to mimic characters in his life who appear on a huge screen. “This is all about forgiveness,” he says several times.
Disputable, considering that a human punching bag pops up about every 10 minutes to get a pummeling. That happens to boxing promoter Don King and ex-wife actress Robin Givens, who gets a major whooping. Even Brad Pitt gets a beatdown.
Tyson laments blowing a $400 million fortune (helped by cheats working for him) and staunchly maintains his innocence on the rape conviction that landed him in prison. He deserved to go to jail for many things, he admits, “but not this.”
“Undisputed Truth” originated in Las Vegas in April. Since then, Spike Lee, in his Broadway debut, has come on as director. Lee has added topical projections, rap music and banners in the theater reading: “Da Republic of Brooklyn.”
That’s all window dressing for a two-hour show that rambles and really needs tightening. A long-winded but insignificant story about “Brady Bunch” star Florence Henderson visiting Tyson in jail is one that could easily be cut. And between them, the star, writer and director could have come up with a better ending than “I hope you leave knowing me better.” A copout, not a knockout.
At least the champ made good on an early vow: “You’ll all go home with two ears.”
"Don’t worry,” Mike Tyson told us, “you’ll leave with two ears tonight, I promise.”
Which is more than Evander Holyfield got, but at least he wasn’t in the audience Tuesday night for “Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth” — unlike 50 Cent, Kanye West, Bryant Gumbel and some other fans.
Directed by Spike Lee, the show’s playing Broadway after premiering in Las Vegas, where he had an onstage band and wore a white cocktail jacket and black slacks. (“I’m really an animal, guys, I’m just dressed up nice,” he said on the Strip.)
Here, the former heavyweight champ’s alone onstage for two intermissionless hours. He gives us about five seconds of shadow-boxing, and spends the rest of the time strolling down memory lane with the help of a screenful of stills and videos.
The one-man show is mostly about personal bouts, like the charges — “I did not rape Desiree Washington,” he proclaims, again — that landed him in prison. Imagine his surprise, he tells us, when one of his celebrity visitors in jail was none other than “Brady Bunch” mom Florence Henderson. (A big photo of her got a huge laugh from the audience.) Another unexpected bonus, he says, was his discovery of Islam.
Tyson also talks about his other demons, starting with Robin Givens, whom he married in 1988 and split from a year later.
During their divorce proceedings, he spotted her in a car with Brad Pitt, whom she had dated before. Tyson quips that they look “like Robert Redford and Pearl Bailey.”
“The dynamic conniving duo,” he calls them in his signature mumbling, high-pitched monotone, which is tough to follow.
Maybe because “Undisputed Truth” is penned by Tyson’s current (third) wife, Kiki, what we’ve got here is a show about redemption, delivered in the contrite tones of a former bad boy turned family man and vegan.
The curtain goes up on the 46-year-old boxer sitting center stage in a gray suit and pale pink shirt, listening to Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy” — “There was a boy/A very enchanted boy/A little shy and sad of eye/But very wise was he.”
Wisdom isn’t one of Tyson’s strong suits, but at least he explains why he grew up sad in Brooklyn.
“I was born with the addictive gene,” he says of his mother’s love affair with the bottle.
Just as Tyson seemed headed to a life of small-time crime, he’s rescued by trainer/manager Cus D’Amato.
“Are you scared of white people?” D’Amato asked his protégé. A slide of Mitt Romney pops up.
That’s the show’s first hour in a nutshell: funny, cheeky, fast, with room for some teary sentiment. “She died of cancer,” Tyson says of his mother, “but I really think that she died of a broken heart.”
And then things start to drag as Tyson trots out one foe after another, including boxer Mitch Green, with whom he butted heads in Harlem back in 1988.
“Then I made a pact with the devil,” Tyson announces. Cue photo of a wild-haired Don King.
And the ear-chomping? That one’s dispatched pretty fast. We don’t get the details, but there’s a still photo from the fight showing Tyson getting perilously close to Holyfield’s head. Tyson never tells us what was going through his mind at the time, but says the two have since made up.
By this point, Tyson’s pink shirt’s soaked through, and he’s pretty much out of breath. Not exactly a TKO. But at least he finished on his feet.
Perhaps you are among the millions of Americans who have muttered, “If I hear one more aging celebrity trying to make a buck by spinning his youthful debaucheries and misdeeds into a redemption story, I’m going to bust him in the nose.”
If so, you might want to stay away from the Longacre Theater. The guy doing just such a spin job on the stage there could punch you back in a way that your face would not soon forget.
He’s Mike Tyson, the former heavyweight boxing champion, and his one-man show, “Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth,” which opened Thursday for a run through Aug. 12, is among the odder spectacles Broadway has seen in a while. Mr. Tyson, 45, is doing little more than relating his well-publicized life story, and, under Spike Lee’s direction, he’s doing so with a clumsiness startling to see on a Broadway stage (and at a ticket price that tops out at $199).
Yet that incongruous, almost childlike Tyson charm pokes through occasionally and makes you momentarily forget how ham-handed and manipulative the show is. Sure, we should save our accolades for the many people who have transcended difficult beginnings without abusing drugs, racking up a rape conviction and biting off a piece of another guy’s ear. But by the end of “Undisputed Truth” you may at least be willing to grant that it would be swell if Mr. Tyson has finally found a nondestructive way to exist in the world.
The show, written by Mr. Tyson’s wife, Kiki Tyson, is mostly aimed at Mr. Tyson’s fans, alluding to rather than detailing the signature events in his life in a way calculated to draw whoops of support from the audience (which on Tuesday night obliged enthusiastically). But it’s a lazily structured biographical tour even for that audience.
Mr. Lee, who attached himself to the show after a version of it appeared in Las Vegas in April, has not brought to it the dramatic ebb and flow of his best movies. No one point is particularly higher or lower than any other, and some personal milestones, like Mr. Tyson’s initial winning of a championship in 1986, are skipped entirely.
There are overly long stretches in which Mr. Tyson trashes Robin Givens, his former wife; Mitch Green, a boxer with whom Mr. Tyson had an out-of-the-ring altercation in 1988; and the boxing promoter Don King. There is a strident denial that he raped a Miss Black America contestant in 1991, a crime for which he served three years in prison.
And there are awkward efforts to wring sympathy out of the deaths of three people who Mr. Tyson tells us very little about: his mother, his sister and one of his children. Mr. Lee does nothing to help Mr. Tyson set up these should-be-poignant moments; they materialize without warning in the midst of the otherwise jaunty, lighthearted, profane narrative, and the audience is supposed to adopt instant somberness. Then, just as abruptly, it’s back to the jaunty narrative. Mr. Tyson isn’t nearly a skilled enough performer to pull off those kinds of transitions.
He is, though, surprisingly amusing when the script lets him be. Early in the show Mr. Tyson is talking about his childhood in Brownsville, Brooklyn, and a picture is projected of the building where he lived, which apparently has had a makeover since Mr. Tyson lived there. “It didn’t look like this,” Mr. Tyson says, looking at the image with a wry contempt. “Spike just took this picture last week.”
And his description of the dumps he fought in early in his career is comically vivid.
“If the crowd didn’t like your performance,” he says, “they didn’t boo you, they started fighting among themselves, to show you how it was done.”
Mr. Tyson has been known to make fun of his own poor diction, most memorably in a skit on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” and untangling his verbiage is a constant challenge during this two-hour, intermissionless show. Doing so rewards you with a few laughs but no real insights, especially on the most central question: What turned Mike Tyson, who was until relatively recently a volatile man with a knack for making bad decisions, into the guy we’re seeing now, a fellow who appears to be at peace with and able to laugh at himself?
Passing mentions of his wife and veganism provide hints of an answer, but, as with many other points in this show, the opportunity to inject something substantive into the proceedings is allowed to pass, and Mr. Tyson’s story just sort of runs out of gas. That leaves the audience unable to make an educated guess as to whether the new, improved Iron Mike will stick around, or whether Mr. Tyson will fall off one wagon or another as he has so often in the past.
In the ring, Mike Tyson never held back. The same can be said of his one-man Broadway show.
Over the course of 90 minutes, Tyson the showman uses the same straightforward approach as Tyson the fighter while speaking about his triumphs, tragedies and demons. "Undisputed Truth," is essentially the former heavyweight champion holding court at the Longacre Theatre.
Kiki Tyson, his third wife, wrote a very clever script. Her husband veers off it occasionally, but it doesn't matter because Tyson is a good storyteller. The show, directed by Spike Lee, is at times crude, at times emotional and mostly funny. His delivery is on target, although often laced with profanity.
There is very little use of boxing footage. Instead, the show transitions to the different stages of Tyson's life with still photographs on a screen at the back of the stage. Tyson looks at the photos -- visual cue cards in a sense -- to move from era to era. Tyson pokes fun at himself throughout much of the show, singing (not too well), dancing (slightly better) and skipping across the stage.
Tyson often goes on the attack, using humor to jab at promoter Don King, heavyweight rival Mitch Green and ex-wife Robin Givens. To the audience's delight, he spends the most time talking about Givens, even suggesting her career might be revived because of the amount of time he spends talking about their failed marriage.
Tyson is often apologetic (he says he's thankful that Evander Holyfield has forgiven him for biting off a piece of his ear). And he is adamant when he says, "I did not rape Desiree Washington ," though he adds that he probably should have gone to jail for other things in his life.
The most poignant and emotionally revealing moments come when Tyson speaks about his mother ("I don't know if I ever told her I loved her; I hope she knows.") and the accidental death in a bizarre choking incident of his 4-year-old daughter, Exodus ("I became a member of a club no parent wants to join.")
It's been seven years since Tyson's last fight, and he opens by saying, "For those of you who don't know me, I'm the guy who used to knock out." On the stage, he shows that he's still capable of delivering a knockout. Only now, he doesn't need to throw a punch.