Friends and admirers of John Leguizamo — Jon Favreau, Edward James Olmos and Cedric the Entertainer among them — filled the Ahmanson Theatre’s lobby on Sunday for a Champagne toast following the L.A. opening-night performance of Leguizamo’s one-man show, “Latin History for Morons,” in downtown Los Angeles.
“So, John, you’ve run this marathon literally every night, and it is a marathon,” said Douglas Baker, Center Theatre Group’s producing director. “At the end of the day, it really is a gorgeous father-and-son story, a family history, American history and world history. ... We applaud you and we raise a glass to you and welcome you back to Los Angeles.”
The Tony-nominated one-man show, written by and starring Leguizamo, opened Sunday to a star-studded audience at the Ahmanson Theatre. (“Latin History for Morons” was released as a Netflix special in 2018.) After taking his bows to a standing ovation, the Tony winner joined friends, producers, Center Theatre Group donors and other VIPs for the reception in the lobby.
In response to his son’s distress over being called a derogatory name at school, Leguizamo takes a deep dive into the history of Latin people in the Americas, searching for heroes and contributions to shore up his son’s self-esteem. He then takes the audience on a whirlwind journey through the past 3,000 years, from the Aztec, Mayan and Inca civilizations to the conquistadors of South America and to the American Revolution and the tango, mambo and samba. There’s also a Pitbull reference and more.
Other celebrities pouring into the theater included Nia Vardalos (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”), Laurence Fishburne (“black-ish”), Loretta Devine (“Crash”), Auli’i Cravalho (“Moana”), Emeraude Toubia (“Shadowhunters”), Chrissie Fit (“Pitch Perfect 2”), Roy Choi (“The Chef Show”), Jeri Ryan (“Star Trek: Voyager”), Danny Pino (“Cold Case”), Laura Bell Bundy (“Jumanji”), Ian Chen (“Shazam!”), Mara Marini (“Parks and Recreation”), Suzanne Cryer (“Silicon Valley”), gossip blogger Perez Hilton and Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan. Many came to the reception, as did the show’s producers Nelle Nugent, Kenneth Teaton, Douglas Denoff, Willette M. Klausner and Jonathan Demar. Also on scene was Dale Franzen, producer of “Hadestown,” this year’s Tony winner for best musical, which the Ahmanson will present in the 2020-21 season.
There was no shortage of praise for Leguizamo either before or after the show. “He’s a great talent,” said Ryan of “Star Trek: Voyager” as she entered the theater.
Having worked with Leguizamo, both on Broadway in “American Buffalo” and in the movie “The Honeymooners,” Cedric the Entertainer called him “super talented, brave and amazing to be doing this one-man performance at such a high level.” He then added, “He’s a great dude and a hard worker with a loving personality. I’m not surprised at the amount of love people are showing him.”
Standing beside Choi at the after-party, Favreau said, “Once you’re friends with John, you’re always friends with John.” The “Lion King” director then added that he had seen every version of this show and all Leguizamo’s other shows about every phase of the actor-comedian-playwright’s life.
Favreau then introduced Choi as the man who taught him and Leguizamo to cook “before and for” Favreau’s movie “Chef.” The TV chef is considered a founder of the gourmet food-truck movement.
Having been named from onstage in a listing of Latin heroes, Olmos said, “It brought tears to my eyes. It made me cry.” He and Leguizamo appeared together in three episodes of “Miami Vice” in the 1980s. “This show has been a long time coming,” Olmos added. “It makes people think in a way they hadn’t thought before. Some people get angry. Some find it a breath of fresh air or a glass of water in the middle of the desert.”
As guests began gathering around to congratulate him, Leguizamo said his hope was “for everybody to leave [the show] becoming a soldier, to be going out there and passing on all the information, all the knowledge. That’s the best way to create change — to become curious about the books [shown onstage], to be looking things up, to be fact-checking me. That’s where the change happens.”
He then added, “It’s just fascinating to me that a lot of people really do love the reading list [in the program] and that people are actually looking for them,” naming Eduardo Galeano’s “Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent” and Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” as books that had an uptick in sales with the arrival of the show on Broadway.
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays (call for exceptions); ends Oct. 20
Post-show stage talks with John Leguizamo: Sept. 11 and Sept. 24
Info: (213) 628-2772 or centertheatregroup.org
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes (no intermission)