Tyson Conquers Broadway
People started arriving two hours before the show to see Mike Tyson again. The former Heavyweight champion of the world 25 years ago performed his one-man show “Mike Tyson Undisputed Truth” for two weeks in August at the Longacre Theatre on Broadway in New York City.
Excitement was in the air to see Mike Tyson take on his latest challenge. “That Lambourghini was sick,” remarks a man who has come after work, dressed in a button shirt and tie. “He had it all, he lived. Heavyweight champion of the world. Apartments all over the world. He had it all.”
Another man, an off-duty police officer tells me he’s seen the show five times. “He changed it up a little bit. I liked it. It’s good, really good. If you’re a fan of boxing history, you’ll really like it.”
Tyson arrives from his hotel, The Ritz, in Battery Park at six, two hours before the show. He steps out of black SUV and waves and smiles to a few early birds. He is by himself now, no entourage, no handlers, no hanger-ons. His closest confidants are his wife Kiki, who wrote the show, and Mario Costa, a former manager of the Hilton brothers and a friend since the Catskills days.
Tyson likes to arrive two hours early to the theatre so he focus and concentrate. With a cup of tea in his famous fist, Tyson explains how performing on stage is similar to prizefighting. “The fight is a performance. You’re performing for the people. I’ve been doing this my whole life,” he says. “But at the same time, now it’s just talking. It’s much easier. It’s not as hard as fighting.”
Like a boxer warming up and shadowboxing before a big fight, the now 46-year-old Tyson prepares differently now. He practices some lines with the voice coach De’ Adre Aziza, such as rehearsing Mitch “Blood” Green imitations, and also Don King, Cus D’Amato and the woman at the crazy house he had to go to after the second Holyfield fight. Mostly it’s working on and perfecting the different sounds of the people he will imitate.
While this is going on backstage, Brooklyn’s DJ Clark Kent pumps up the packed house with some heavy rap. Then the curtain raises a few minutes after eight, and the mood suddenly changes because of the captivatingly beautiful vocal sounds of Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy.”
“…the greatest thing I learned is just to love…and be loved in return.”
Mike Tyson is wearing a suit jacket and white shirt, slacks and black leather shoes. The audience is applauding vehemently, They love him. He is sitting still on a stool as the music plays. A lamp hangs a few feet over his head. Then he lifts his head and says, simply, “Welcome to my living room.”
Perfectly at ease, Tyson discusses his life from the beginning. It’s hard to believe he’s got it all memorized because it sounds just like he’s talking naturally, straight from the heart. Tyson covers it all, his mother, father, getting into trouble with the law, pummeling Gary the bully who pulled off his pigeon’s head – “it was love at first fight” – seeing Muhammad Ali live in the flesh. “I remember like it was yesterday. He came to Spofford Juvenile Detention Center. He lit the place up with his charm and charisma. I remember thinking, I just want to be in that man’s presence again.”
About 15 minutes into the show, a man in the front row takes a flash photo of Tyson, which DJ Clark Kent told us was strictly prohibited. A female usher comes down and warns the violator. Tyson is not distracted at all and even manages to stick a friendly jab ad-lib without breaking stride, “You got caught, huh?”
The audience learns many things about the host…Tyson lost 160 pounds and is clean and sober for 3 1/2 years now. Don King charged him $8,000 a week for towels. He once found ex-wife Robin Givens in a compromising position with Brad Pitt. John F. Kennedy Jr. and Shaquille O’Neal were among Tyson’s many celebrity visitors in jail. Tyson goes into 15 minutes of hilarious details about the infamous Mitch Green brawl at Dapper Dan’s in Harlem. Tyson is naturally humorous person. I look over to see Mario Costa’s reactions, he’s seen every show, every night. He’s laughing hard just like me. Tyson really is that funny.
Tyson shows respect for one of his great rivals. A photo pops up on the back screen of Mike with Evander Holyfield. “He is a class brother,” Mike says. “I wish him only the best.” Holyfield attended one of the Vegas shows and enjoyed it immensely. “I sat near Holyfield,” says Costa, “He was leaning forward, watching Mike closely, he seemed very proud to see Mike having success in something other than boxing.”
In his heyday, Iron Mike was symbol of power and excess, with his Lambourghinis and Rolls Royces, the fancy homes in New Jersey, Connecticut, New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Materialism means nothing to him now. He says the sports cars looked great on the outside but ran like junk. After one show, a man tried to give Tyson a $20,000 wristwatch but Tyson politely refused to accept the gift.
Kanye West, the sensational pop star, came to a show and visited Tyson backstage after. West told Tyson, “It was so inspiring, you inspired me so much. I want to change things in my life, starting tonight.” Tyson, like a mentor, replied simply to West, “You can do it. You can change your life any time you want.”
Mario Costa explains what motivates Mike now. “He went through all that with the money, cars and girls. It doesn’t mean anything. Family, his wife, taking care of his kids, paying his bills, that’s what’s important to Mike now.”
Various celebrities came to see Mike perform and visited him backstage after, including 50 Cent, Bryan Gumbel, Lou DiBella, Alicia Keys and her husband Swizz Beatz, actors Susan Sarandon and John Turturro. Sarandon, an Academy Award winner, was ecstatic to meet Mike, says Costa. “Susan Sarandon went crazy, she said, ‘I loved the show, you were great Mike.’”
Everyone seemed to appreciate “Mike Tyson Undisputed Truth”, even the veteran theatre columnist for The New York Post, Michael Reidel. In a column, Reidel wrote, “Undisputed Truth is the best thing I’ve seen all summer, I kid you not…Tyson’s life has been one hell of a roller coaster ride and he tells it with a panache. Sure, he has trouble pronouncing big words, but he says mother****** and bi*** with all the conviction of a great method actor.”
“He’s also an excellent mimic, delivering spot-on imitations of Don King, Mitch Green and Cus D’Amato. And how could you not like a show that settles scores with Robin Givens. Tyson imitates her using her phony white voice…He wraps up the show this weekend. Don’t miss it. Tyson gets my nominee for this year’s special Tony Award.”
As usual, with Mike Tyson, there had to be some form of controversy, and there was. A maniac Tweeted a threat to do a shooting rampage at the Longacre Theatre during Tyson’s show. “This shit aint no joke yo – I’m serious, people are gonna die like in aurora (reference to the 12 killed and 58 wounded at the Batman screening in Colorado).”
NYPD took the threats seriously enough to position about a dozen armed officers outside the theatre each night. One officer told me, “The NYPD doesn’t consider it a real threat but we’ll maintain a presence at the theatre anyway.”
Another small, anti-violence group also protested one night but other than that, Mike Tyson, directed by Spike Lee, was a smashing success on Broadway.
Mario Costa said, “There were people at the show who didn’t know or care about Mike, they just went with a friend or boyfriend. They couldn’t believe it, they said, I’m so happy I came. I could never think he could be that good.”
Robert Diaz, part of the Puerto Rican posse who came from Jersey City, told Costa, “I never expected that from Mike, that it would be that good. When I sat in the chair from beginning to end, I was stuck. I was mesmerized for two hours. I couldn’t take my eyes off the stage. I was stuck. It was incredible. I was laughing at the funny parts. I have a girl, four years old, he had me crying when he was talking about his (deceased) daughter (Exodus).”
Mike Tyson completed the New York, 12-night run of his show on a Sunday night. The following day, he returned to New Jersey to visit Costa and spend the day relaxing with his pigeons which are cooped behind the Ringside Lounge restaurant and bar in Jersey City.”
The man who once said he would eat the children of Lennox Lewis and gut Kevin McBride like a fish, has clearly changed and evolved. Once a champion, always a champion. There is an inner peace and happiness. A respect for all humanity now. It’s exciting to think of where Mike Tyson will end up and how positively he can influence the world. He has been through the ringer countless times…and survived it all. You get the sense, in a way, he is stronger and wiser than ever now… “…the greatest thing I learned is just to love and be loved in return…”
(Note: This feature was a cover story for the August 23rd issue of Boxing News weekly magazine based in London, England.)