So Mike Tyson walks into the Orpheum Theatre …

It sounds like a set up for a joke. Mike Tyson, battered and bruised by his career as a champion boxer, by his addictions, by his ego, by life itself, walks onto the stage of the Orpheum Theatre, where people have paid good money – upwards of $110 – to listen to him talk about his tempestuous life for two hours.

Mike Tyson Headshot

If the 46-year-old “Iron Mike” (photo at right by Jerry Metellus) hadn’t already done this with some degree of success, you’d be excused for thinking this was an elaborate prank. And with the estimable Spike Lee as the director of this bizarre theatrical outing, you know there must be something interesting going on in Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth, a one-man show by a somewhat baffling man.

To my immense surprise (and even delight), there is something interesting happening at the Orpheum Theatre (a quick three-day stand from the folks at SHN). I walked into the theater not remotely a fan of Tyson’s and knowing only what I had gleaned from media coverage of his triumphs and travails for the last 25 years or so. My uninformed opinion was that he was probably a brute damaged by his rough urban upbringing and became even more brutish when the championships and the ensuing millions began pouring in.

Turns out that impression was pretty accurate, but the way Tyson tells it, with the help of a giant video screen full of images compiled by Lee, he was a thug but now he’s “domesticated.” He beings the show sitting in a spotlight while Nat “King” Cole’s “Nature Boy” plays for much longer than you expect. The audience responds like they’re in the presence of a rock star, and when the music finally ends, Tyson accepts the audience love as if he’d just performed the song himself.

He says the evening will be considerably lighter than the documentary about him James Toback’s 2008 film Tyson, and it is (mercifully), though Tyson doesn’t shy away from talking about rough stuff like his turbulent marriage to Robin Givens, his rape conviction (he says he was innocent) and prison term and the death of his 4-year-old daughter, Exodus.

Though I was able to understand about 85% of what Tyson said (much higher than I expected, actually, having only heard him on TV), the former champ is a charismatic stage presence who manages to get his points across with swagger and humor and even a little bit of heart.

My favorite line came during his extensive trash talking about Givens (promoter Don King gets his share of trash, as does boxer Mitch Green). On the screen is a paprazzo photo of Givens with her then-new boyfriend, a sweet-faced Brad Pitt. Tyson calls them the “brokedown version of Pearl Bailey and Robert Redford.”

Written by Tyson’s wife, Kiki Tyson, the show skips around in time and doesn’t arrive at a satisfying conclusion other than little Mike may be happy at last. Clean and sober for four years, Tyson is rebuilding his relationship with his eight children and is living a happier, smarter life than ever before. That’s certainly a happy ending, but Tyson’s story is hardly over.

I found myself wondering why in the world Tyson is doing a stage show about his life. It’s certainly an unlikely step in his career, which makes it interesting. And frankly, the mere fact of Tyson stepping onto a stage is theatrical given all the history he brings with him. He says he wants us to have a better understanding of him, and the show certainly helps rehabilitate his image in relatively small groups (compared to film and television).

But do we really want a better understanding of Mike Tyson, the man who’s made a life of second chances? When he’s in his 70s doing his Elaine Stritch-style autobiographical cabaret, then he’ll really have something to say about life for those of us who have never had, as he has, the opportunity to find out how horrible it is to drive a Lamborghini or what it feels or tastes like to have a piece of chomped-off ear in your mouth.

Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth continues through March 2 at the Orpheum Theatre, 1182 Market St.,San Francisco. Tickets are $50-$110. Call 888-746-1799 or visit

Colman Domingo moves from`Strange’ to `Soul’

You know you’ve achieved a certain level of success when you’re on line, waiting to get into an exclusive magazine party, and Spike Lee sticks his head out the door, sees you waiting and immediately says, “Get him in here.”

That’s what life is like these days for Colman Domingo, one of those Bay Area success stories: young actor moves here, starts working like crazy, emerges as a major talent and then heads off to New York and stardom.

For Domingo, who moved from San Francisco to New York in 2001, the turning point came with Passing Strange, the Tony Award-winning musical that had its world premiere at Berkeley Repertory Theatre before heading to the Public Theater in New York and an eventual transfer to Broadway.

“The Passing Strange experience led to a lot of things career-wise,” Domingo says. “Creatively and spiritually, that was the most dynamic theater experience I’ve had in 15 years of being in this business.”

Domingo is back in the Bay Area, his old stomping grounds, for a revival of his solo show, A Boy and His Soul, opening Wednesday, Sept. 3, as part of Thick Description’s 20th anniversary season.

The 38-year-old actor returns as a Broadway veteran who now has a management and a publicist. He was just splashed across the pages of Out magazine in a glamorous fashion spread, and he’s a regular on the LOGO network’s Big Gay Sketch Show.

“For me, being in this business 15 years, the idea that it’s all happening now, at 38, is great,” Domingo says. “I’ve worked toward this. I don’t know if I’d have appreciated this at 23.”

Though the Broadway experience had its dazzle – rubbing shoulders with Edward Albee and Marian Seldes during awards season, breakfast with Spike Lee, etc. – it also had its rigors. To maintain his health and stamina, Domingo says he “lived life as a nun.” He saw a chiropractor for the first time in his life.

“The work day began at 3 p.m.: eat, work out, nap,” Domingo explains. “On your day off you really had to do nothing. And then there all the events you need to attend, the press stuff. A friend got upset with me because I hadn’t called her or seen her. `No one can be that busy,’ she said. With a show on Broadway, actually you can be that busy. I had no idea.”

Domingo insists the success hasn’t gone to his head and that his friends keep him grounded.

“This has been a high time, a nice time,” he says. “I understand it and appreciate it. I’m enjoying the ride of it all. I still have my closest friends around me. I still have my apartment in Harlem. It’s nothing fancy. I just have better furniture now. For the first time I have furniture I actually bought and wasn’t handed down. I always realize that I could be back bartending like I was two years ago. This is a great time, but I’m very lucky – no different from any other actor.”

During Domingo’s decade in the Bay Area – “I tell people it’s where I became an artist” – Domingo hatched A Boy and His Soul – he connected with Thick Description on Oliver Mayer’s Blade to the Heat in 1997, and the seeds for A Boy and His Soul, the story of Domingo’s childhood in Philadelphia in the 1970s, began to sprout.

Thick D artistic director Tony Kelly eventually directed the premiere of Boy in 2005 and began talking to Domingo about bringing it back for the anniversary season even before Passing Strange took off.

“I was happy with the San Francisco version,” Domingo says, “but it needed more work, more focus.”

In addition to work done at the New York Theatre Workshop and recent re-writes with Kelly in New York, Domingo says the piece has deepened with the loss of his parents in the last two years.

Passing Strange helped me heal, especially after losing my mom,” Domingo says. “I had my first audition on a Monday with the callback on Wednesday. My mom passed away on Tuesday. They held the callback for me two weeks later and sang an a cappella gospel song. It’s so interesting, with all that, and Broadway, I’ve been through something and life has changed so much. It’s good to get back to A Boy and His Soul.”

Domingo was recently back in Philadelphia visiting his sister and visiting old haunts. “It feels so different but inherently the same,” he says. “I feel like I’m always in a dream state when I’m here.”

In the less dreamy real world, Domingo’s career is still burbling. He has a bit part in Spike Lee’s new movie Miracle at St. Anna, a World War II drama in which he plays a West Indian postal customer. Of course he’ll also be in Lee’s filmed version of Passing Strange, which took place during the show’s final days on Broadway in July. And he plays a ’70s disc jockey in An Englishman in New York starring John Hurt.

As for a return to Broadway after his brief San Francisco sojourn, he says it could happen.

“I’m sniffing around a production or two,” he says. “Right now I’m in a place of what’s next? A lot of meetings. A lot of possibilities.”

A Boy and His Soul runs Sept. 3 through 14 at the Thick House, 1695 18th St., San Francisco. Tickets are $15-$30 on a sliding scale. Call 415-401-8081 or visit

Here’s Domingo as a gay grandson visiting his grandmother on “The Big Gay Sketch Show” (the language is ROUGH, so don’t watch this at work…at least not with the sound on):

Spike Lee to film `Passing Strange’ reports that filmmaker Spike Lee is so taken with Stew’s Broadway musical Passing Strange that he has raised money to film the show concert style. Here’s the short news item:

Spike Lee is going to Broadway. The Oscar-nominated writer/director will be spending part of his July filming the Tony-winning production Passing Strange. Lee will film the musical by singer/songwriter Stew over the course of a weekend, shooting two shows with audiences and then a third one without. (He did a similar thing with his 2000 concert film The Original Kings of Comedy.) Passing Strange’s producers are financing the production, and while no distribution deal has been set, sources believe it will air on cable television upon completion. The musical centers on a young black musician who sets off on a journey to find “the real” after being raised in a church-going middle-class Los Angeles neighborhood. It was originally developed at the Sundance Institute Theatre Lab.

Of course, Bay Area audiences know that isn’t the whole story. The musical had its world premiere at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in Ocotober, 2006 (a co-production with New York’s Public Theater), and we’ve been Stew fans ever since.

When Lee fell for the show, he fell hard. Here’s a letter he wrote on the Passing Strange MySpace page:

Dear Theatergoer,

Can you deal with the real?

At The Public Theater last spring, I saw a musical called Passing Strange. I was so moved and inspired I went back a second time with the quickness. Now due to popular and critical demand, Passing Strange is moving uptown.

I’m writing to urge you to go see it, as this fresh musical is an unstoppable force of energy, music and mayhem, just what Broadway needs.

The creation of a visionary artist named Stew, a phenomenal singer-songwriter from South Central LA by way of Amsterdam and Berlin, it’s the story of a young black man on a journey of self-discovery. But the pure rock energy, Soul, profound humanity and brilliant cast are the elements that make Passing Strange unforgettable.

The New Yorker called it “a finely-crafted American musical.” And New York Magazine hailed it as “a new musical that amazing! actually feels relevant.” Sometimes the critics get it right.

Not the first groundbreaking Broadway hit to get its start at The Public Theater (Hair, A Chorus Line, Noise…Funk), but you can be among the first to see this next big thing. So check out the discount offer. Then go see Passing Strange and tell them Spike sent you.

Yours truly,
Spike Lee

For more information, visit