Charlie Sheen performs radically different Torpedo of Truth show at Chicago Theatre

Charlie Sheen's life has been lived, at times, as if he were starring in his own reality show, part "Celebrity Rehab," part "Cribs," part "Howard Stern Show," part "The Girls Next Door."

If we accept that premise, then Sunday at the Chicago Theatre was the makeover episode.

Instead of the disjointed exercise in hero worship he had presented on night one of his theatrical tour in Detroit Saturday, Sheen mostly sat and fielded an interviewer's questions, bantering with the crowd, dropping the F-word, and actually seeming to satisfy, if not amaze, concertgoers.

Gone was the dime-store Hunter S. Thompson manifesto he had recited, losing much of the Detroit crowd in his first half-hour on stage. Gone was the raucous banging bass and the videos cobbled together from old movies and YouTube clips about Sheen.

And gone, almost entirely, were the boos for the embattled, family-troubled, recently fired, oft-interviewed sitcom star.

It was a canny shift of the show's tone, from epic self-aggrandizement to a more casual, at times even likable, persona. We will not go so far as to say "humble," because Saturday's Sheen seemed to be lurking at Sunday's edges, ready to return, especially for a few minutes early on when the 45-year-old actor seemed to be resisting the new stage-show format.

While it didn't fully justify $80 main-floor ticket prices, it got the job done. And it gave the tour -- which looked doomed after Saturday -- a format it can work with going forward. The show was still not "My Violent Torpedo of Truth/Defeat Is Not an Option," as the tour title promises, but it was at least a forward-moving projectile of moderate dish about celebrity.

People outside before the show said they didn't expect magnificence. They just wanted to see and hear Sheen being more or less himself, like in all those TV interviews he's done since his life blew up this spring. And in the Chicago Theatre's interview setting, with Sheen chain-smoking, wearing a shirt borrowed from a guy in the front rows, they got it.

They also got some news. Sheen said he would return to "Two and a Half Men," the hit CBS sitcom that fired him after he viciously criticized creator Chuck Lorre. "If they say 'Here's your job back,' I'll go back to work," he said.

"I think it's a great f------ show," he said, but his bosses, not so great: "They didn't give a f--- that I was hammered for eight years … money, ratings, money, ratings."

He apologized to co-star Jon Cryer for having called him a "troll," Sheen's most-used word for his perceived enemies, as things were going south: "I was wrong. Jon's not a troll. Jon's a … rock star."

He acknowledged being jealous of George Clooney and how Clooney's movies always seem to work, told at least a little bit of what it was like to live with two women, his "goddesses," and saved some special venom for Brooke Mueller, who has been listed as his ex-wife, but whom Sheen said he is still technically married to.

Credit Sheen for being willing to dump the show he had planned for his mutlicity tour. And for taking on the Detroit debacle -- in which he was serenaded with chants of "refund" -- early and often. "I had the best f------ time of my life, unlike that death sentence that was Detroit," he said at show's end Sunday.

The Chicago crowd was ready to please him, too, delivering an unbidden "Detroit sucks" chant right away.

And give special credit to Sheen's interviewer, former radio deejay Joey Scoleri, a co-producer on the tour who works in marketing for promoter LiveNation. He worked hard to keep the actor on track, telling stories rather than being distracted by noises in the crowd. One of Sheen's biggest problems in Detroit was that he had rabbit ears, only hearing the boos and letting it derail any control he had of the crowd.

Sheen would start a story about, say, crack cocaine use, but when not everybody in the Motor City gave him instant adulation and approval, he stopped, only making the crowd's revolt worse.

In Detroit, he told the folks in his manifesto that "it's about to get a lot more radical," only to later answer a question about the possibility of another sequel to "Major League" (indeed, he said Sunday there will be a "Major League 3"). He talked big about telling the truth, the "REAL story," as he put it. But he delivered less insight than you would get were Oprah to interview him.

Before the show Sunday, as TV cameras and reporters swarmed the entrance, the mood was one of cautious optimism. Few interviewed before Detroit or Chicago came in with expectations any higher than being able to say they had been there for a potential public implosion. It's a powerful draw.

"I wanted to not go at all, then I read the review (of the Detroit show) this morning and it changed my mind," said Bill Termunde, 26, a Wicker Park resident who works in marketing. "I wanted to see this disaster."

Termunde and a friend paid $15 for $35 tickets outside the Chicago Theatre from someone who, they said, had made the opposite decision.

Sheen was, in a sense, bulletproof. "I'm not expecting him to do that well, or he wouldn't be Charlie Sheen," said Jenna Schaefer, a student at Eastern Illinois University from Gurnee.

Said her date, consultant Michael Mock: "I just want to pretty much see all the interviews I've seen on TV in real life. Tell us what he's done. Tell us about some 7-gram rocks (of cocaine). It's either gonna make history or it's gonna be a great show."

Inside the theater, the preshow mood was decidedly more mellow than in Detroit; Jimmy Buffett was part of the music. Lines were long for official tour merchandise, including $35 T-shirts that made such proclamations as "Sheenius" and "Bangin' 7Gs." The theater listed a drink special called the "Train Wreck": $9 for vodka and Red Bull, mostly. It was not, alas, a Sheen-inspired concoction, but something that has long been available there, the server said.

Sheen's tour comes on the heels of a tabloid maelstrom during which he was hospitalized after trashing a New York hotel room and again after hosting what sounded like a marathon bender at his home. But through most of that, he continued to hold down his job as star of CBS' "Two and a Half Men" just fine. It wasn't until Sheen began insulting his employers, especially the show's creator, Lorre, that production was halted (in late February) and Sheen was fired (in early March).

As lawsuits regarding the TV show wait to be settled, Sheen decided to follow the Conan O'Brien model: Take his personality directly to the people. But O'Brien has been running, writing and starring in very funny TV shows for decades. He knows what it takes to entertain crowds. Sheen apparently made the mistake, initially, of believing that his sitcom popularity and subsequent mass Twitter following meant he could do anything.

As it turned out, all he had to do was sit back and, with a little guidance, be himself.

sajohnson@tribune.com

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