If you sign up for the class of “Latin History for Morons” starring John Leguizamo as the professor, you will be enrolled in one of the funniest shows in town. You will also get an education, as the audience is regarded as a collection of “morons” for not knowing the compendium of history that Leguizamo dishes out with his hilarious methods, interpretations and ingenuity as a performer.
Professor Leguizamo, with his blackboards, chalked time-lines, funny drawings, his own written patter and occasional plunges into ethnic dancing, all under the free-flowing direction of Tony Taccone, dredges up history as he sees it to link president day Latinos with ancestors. We “morons” may be amazed to discover so many roots, from the victims of the conquistadors through the Native American displaced tribes to the present struggling Puerto Ricans in the wake of the hurricane.
Late in the show Leguizamo jabs politically at the neglect of Puerto Rico, received with loud applause at the performance I attended. During the show he ventures into Spanish at some points, to the exuberant laughter of his fans who understand him.
In this 95-minute performance without an intermission, what amounts to elaborate standup has a structure around family. There is the son Leguizamo describes as suffering from bullying in school because of his ethnicity and is growing increasingly depressed. He is assigned to write about a hero in order to graduate, and Leguizamo searches through files and books to find a likely Latino subject. The hero his son eventually discovers becomes a statement as well as a revelation.
Leguizamo also imitates his daughter, listening to music on her earphones but also occasionally emerging with wisdom. The working of family into the show provides the chance for sentiment to embellish the comedy. Sometimes that slows things down a bit, but it injects heart into what Leguizamo is seriously dispensing beneath all of the hilarity.
And hilarity is the right word, for Leguizamo is a master of timing, physical comedy (as when he breaks into dance), accents that underline his points, use of funny costumes and overall cleverness that gives meaning to what he does. Those who have seen him before are familiar with his talent. But in this show he rises majestically above what I have seen him achieve previously. So, the message is that theatergoing “morons” should not miss this opportunity to be educated, Leguizamo style, while laughing heartily. At Studio 54, 254 West 54th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed November 19, 2017.