July 11, 2012

Mike Tyson sat with his wife, Kiki, and gazed at Chazz Palmenteri. The famous Italian-American actor stood alone on the Las Vegas stage for 90 minutes, accompanied only by a spotlight and the story of his tumultuous upbringing. Riveted by Palmenteri's celebrated one-man show, A Bronx Tale, Tyson pondered the performance and subsequently leaned over toward his wife.

"Baby," Tyson said. "I can do this."

According to ticket sales, he was right. And now, Spike Lee is in his corner to help.

After a successful run in Las Vegas, Tyson's one-man show Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth will play on Broadway starting July 31. The show was originally scheduled to run until August 5, but high ticket demands extended it until August 12. Lee never saw Tyson perform in Vegas, but he offered to direct the show after he viewed a DVD of the performance. Lee convinced Broadway big-wig Jimmy Nederlander that Tyson's story was fit for Manhattan's famed Theatre District.

Tyson and Lee may appear to be an unlikely duo, but the fellow Brooklynites have been friends for more than 20 years and are rooted in the same neighborhoods. Tyson was born in Fort Greene, the same neighborhood where Lee was raised.

"I've known Mike a long time," said Lee. "Mike was born in Cumberland Hospital where Michael Jordan was born and where Albert and Bernard King were born. Mike lived in Brownsville. 'Never run, Never will.' He's a true product of Brooklyn."

A now-faded mural of Tyson was painted at Stuyvesant and Lexington Avenues for Lee's critically acclaimed 1989 film Do the Right Thing. Tyson emerged as history's youngest heavyweight world champion just three years before the film was released.

"If there is anybody out there that's going to help me do something like this, Spike would be the perfect guy," said Tyson. "We both have a great affinity with the world of Brooklyn and I think Spike is the man with the swagger to do it.

Notoriously candid in interviews, Tyson is straightforward about his motivations for the production.

"What I do is tell them who I am and what I have done. And they can base their own opinion off of that," said Tyson. "It comes from a diabolical childhood. Everything was just really bad. I never really knew until recently that my mother's name wasn't really her name. Why? Why would she do that to us? Why would you hide your name?"

Tyson's natural eccentricity means his performance will likely feature an unpredictable blend of intensity, humor and reflection. Tyson was a comedic hit in his cameos in The Hangover series, but his fearsome persona and violent past still resonate with the general public. After drawing large crowds and positive reviews in Las Vegas, Tyson's next goal is to conquer his home audience.

"Take my word, people," said Lee. "It'll be riveting."

"This is very crucial to me," said Tyson. "My whole life is entertainment; I want people to like it. Maybe deep down inside, I want more people to like me and I act like I don't, but I really want people to like this performance, I want people to say, 'When do I go see this again?'"

Tyson is well-accustomed to the spotlight, but admits that he is nervous since he hasn't performed the new edition on Broadway. But what is the main difference between being at the center of the ring as opposed to center stage?

"After every performance," Tyson muses. "I don't have to go to the hospital."

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