The history of American theater and live performance always has counted on audiences eager to see famous people in close proximity. Almost always, though, it involved famous actors, singers, dancers, comics or musicians also performing or otherwise showing their talent. Even famous people who didn't act, sing, dance or tell jokes could at least read a speech and draw a crowd.
Road shows today increasingly feature reality TV stars from the "Cake Boss" to "The Real Housewives of New York," who put together a string of appearances to speak, demonstrate or otherwise hobnob directly with fans.
A new trail is being forged in live performance within the last year, offering recently ousted TV stars in a string of shows. Freed from the schedules of TV jobs that once held them, they were allowed to travel, meet directly with fans, lick their wounds, boost their egos, sell some T-shirts, and yes, make close to the kind of money they did before cameras.
Conan O'Brien blazed the trail in this field for this with his "Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour" last summer, filling out the time he was kept from reappearing on TV by NBC, which bumped his "Tonight" show with a return of Jay Leno early last year.
As a tour, he traded on the buzz and sympathy from the whole NBC fiasco, but he also had a comedy act, some prepared short films, and had a band on hand with which he could play out his rock-star dreams.
Charlie Sheen, who became a figure of fascination when a string of belligerent interviews led to his being fired from TV's highest rated comedy "Two and a Half Men," is now parlaying his notoriety into his own tour.
Yet aside from a strange rant in an online video — his preferred method of communicating with fans these days (along with Twitter) — there was considerable curiosity as to what his stage show actually would entail.
Unlike O'Brien, he doesn't do standup, sing, play guitar. But if his rants can hold an audience and boost ratings, as they did on Network TV and online, why not 90 minutes of manic ranting, chain-smoking and catchphrases?
Of his "My Violent Torpedo of Truth/Defeat is Not an Option Show," which comes to the Toyota Presents at the Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford on Saturday, April 9, and the MGM Grand Theatre at Foxwoods April 17, Sheen posed his own set of Socratic questions:
"Will there be surprises? Will there be guests? Will there be mayhem? Will you ask questions? Will you laugh? Will you scream? Will you know the truth? WILL THERE BE MORE?!?! This IS where you will hear the REAL story from the Warlock. Bring it. I dare you to keep up with me."
When the show finally opened in Detroit on April 2, not only was it not an "instant sellout," as was initially reported, it was also a bona fide disaster. Crowds distressed by his strange free verse, incoherent jumble of film clips, ear-splitting music and unfunny opening act booed and heckled lustily. Sheen, unused to this sort of direct response, was further distracted from whatever message he wanted to convey.
Scores walked out before the show was over; those who paid for $750 meet-and-greet tickets reportedly were stood up.
"On the bus, someone said, 'You know, we could just keep driving to L.A.,'" Sheen told E! News afterward. But he refused to do that. "That's what losers do! I won!"
And so he appeared in his next stop April 3 in Chicago with an extensively retooled show, apparently calling the Detroit experience "a disturbing odyssey that at times had me questioning the very nature of my soul."
And, reportedly under the direction of the Live Nation co-producer of the tour Joey Scoleri, Sheen sat down to submit to a number of questions, to which the crowd responded positively. Sheen declared at the end, "I'm having the best time of my life. Unlike that death sentence that was Detroit."
Every stop of his tour was the stuff of national entertainment news as people tried to figure out the exact shape of his performance: Would it be more like Chicago or Detroit?
For the third stop of the tour April 5 in Cleveland, he finessed the crowd by wearing a Cleveland Indians jersey, much like the one he wore when he played wayward pitcher Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn in "Major League" and its sequel. He further ingratiated himself by saying he'd want to shoot "Major League 3" in Cleveland as well.
As in Chicago, he brought out his two "goddesses" Rachel Oberlin and Natalie Kenly. And guitarist Rob Patterson from Filter, who recently toured with Korn, is still apparently part of the act. But mostly, he sat with Scoleri for another Q & A.
There's an array of merchandise available at the show, most of it featuring some of the 22 catchphrases Sheen is trying to copyright, according to a news story this week. Among them: "Duh, Winning!," "Vatican Assassin," "Tiger Blood," "Sober Valley Lodge" "Tiger Blood," "Rock Star from Mars" and "Sheen's Goddesses."
The whole Sheen mess began after a string of police incidents, domestic-abuse inquiries and stints in rehab that led to the suspension of the balance of the season for "Two and a Half Men," a comedy for which Sheen is TV's highest-paid actor.
Sheen retaliated by going on a series of high-profile network interviews in late February in which he blasted his bosses and network. The network responded by firing him, noting Sheen's "inability to perform the essential duties of his position."
An 11-page letter issued March 7 mentioned "Mr. Sheen's physical appearance, inability to deliver lines, inability to collaborate creatively with staff and crew, inability to work with the executive producers" particularly by making "inflammatory comments poisoning key working relationships."
One man's inflammatory comments is another man's entertainment tour, as the "Torpedo of Truth" may well prove.
Sheen's performance at the Oakdale Saturday comes between two shows booked at New York's Radio City Music Hall Friday and Sunday. His MGM Grand show at Foxwoods, announced just last Friday, came with a little bit more explanation:
"Charlie is going to have crowd interaction on what he should or shouldn't do and who he should sign with. He will be asking his fans in attendance to determine some of his career moves," the website says.
The Foxwoods on-sale date came the same day Conan O'Brien tweeted regarding the Sheen tour: "Being a mentally unstable out of work TV star on tour was my idea."
For his part, Sheen had his own inexplicable tweet: "#TORPEDO Warlock unstoppable! 2nd Toronto show added!! Also FOXWOODS CASINO! Be there... Ybw Details!!"
CHARLIE SHEEN's "My Violent Torpedo of Truth/ Defeat is Not an Option Show" plays the Toyota Presents at the Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $62,10, $84.25 and $106 with a VIP ticket price featuring a meet and greet at $575. Information: 860-265-1501 or http://www.oakdale.com.
The show also plays the MGM Grand in Foxwoods April 17, where tickets are $82.50 to $150 with a VIP ticket also available. Information: 800-200-2882 or http://www.foxwoods.com.