We first became aware of Mario Cantone's stage gifts after seeing him in the Roundabout’s revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins and in Manhattan Theatre Club’s The Violet Hours. Gothamist had also loved him as Charlotte’s acid-tongued wedding planner Anthony Marentino on Sex & The City. His new one-man Broadway show is aptly called Laugh Whore, and Cantone delivers a riotous evening of of comedy and music.
Cantone references classic television variety shows often, and we could clearly recognize the influence shows like The Sonny & Cher Show and The Carol Burnett Show had on him. For one thing, the simple set and its lighting are very reminiscent some of the old variety show sets. But mainly, it’s apparent in Cantone’s mission. This guy wants to entertain us, and he delivers in spades.
A sizeable portion of the show is devoted to Cantone ripping apart popular culture, with stories skewering an incredibly varied range of celebrities, both dead and living. To name but a few: Lauren Bacall, Michael Jackson, Shelly Winters, Julia Child, and of course, Judy and Liza. Cantone is a remarkably good impersonator, but it is his stories that send up these celebs that kill, as does his uncanny ability to jump back and forth between celebs in conversation. His imagined backstage encounter at the Tony Awards between LL Cool J and Carol Channing is inspired, as is his duet between Cher and Tina Turner on “Proud Mary.” Our favorite impersonation of the evening may have been his take on Jim Morrison performing a Christmas medley, Doors style, for a supposed “unaired” Christmas variety special starring Morrison. Cantone nails Morrison perfectly, with the utmost swagger and bravado.
The pop culture references continue to hit the audience at an astonishing pace. Surprisingly, Cantone leaves out stories about his run on Sex & The City – perhaps it is because Showtime is Laugh Whore’s lead producer and does not want to give HBO the free publicity. But it doesn’t matter, as this guy has plenty to say without relying upon the obvious. Cantone also tells stories about his upbringing, and there’s a surprising amount of darkness in the funny tales he spins. A death in the family opens up cans of worms about his father’s double life, and his mother’s infidelities with the local police captain. Cantone smartly relays most of these tales in the second act, by which time the audience has laughed so hard at references to Norma Desmond, Mommie Dearest, and Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, that we want to hear anything he is dishing on.
But the second act also contains Cantone’s tour de farce Judy Garland segment, as well as an all-star send up of The Vagina Monologues. Taking requests from the audience, Cantone imagines everyone from Madonna to Barbra Streisand to Elaine Stritch performing Eve Ensler’s opus. Laugh Whore may be a one-man enterprise, but Cantone’s talent, command of the material, and affection for the variety show fill the stage with a wonderful evening of theater