Ennio Marchetto - a spirit escaped from a place of mirth and mayhem - uses skills in mimicry while cloaked in clever costumes to create wonderful impersonations of pop culture icons, music makers and more.
Ennio!, a one man show that features Marchetto's original concepts of split-second transformations, is actually a collaboration between himself and Sosthen Hennekam, a gifted costumer. Together they have cobbled together a showcase of Ennio's impersonations of Marilyn Monroe, Tina Turner, Dolly Parton, Gene Kelly and dozens more, using the original recordings made by these artists as integral to the illusion.
The result: a show that is non-stop and side-splittingly hilarious. Even if you have to elbow your way into the Calderwood Pavilion to catch this run before it ends on June 1, do so: you won't regret it.
Marchetto is trained in commedia dell'arte, originally practiced in Italy in the 16th century and passed on down through the generations. He is also reminiscent of kabuki players from Japan who use stylized movements and silence in performances that draw audiences into imaginary worlds.
Yet Marchetto is more than this: his body is sinewy. His face is like Marcel Marceau's, expressive and innocent in its raucousness. His long arms and legs reach out from behind the paper costumes like snakes or tendrils. He is in constant motion, morphing on stage.
It mostly all works, and if one or two of his impersonations fall short of total hilarity, wait a moment: a new one will appear from behind (or from within) the folds of paper Marchetto sports on stage like a giant sandwich board. He peels off these layers the way we might unwrap a candy bar. Within the package is a hidden confection, a treat. If the persona isn't immediately recognizable, it becomes so after a blink, or a wink.
There are too many boob antics -- his channeling of Marilyn Monroe is clever at the onset, but then propping up imaginary breasts ceases to be funny after the third or forth impersonation (Madonna, Dolly Parton, and others). His impersonation of a Hasidic rabbi curdles: there is nothing intriguing or even mildly amusing about his naughty eyes peering through the fun-house mask of a religious man with a beard and ear locks. It is a throwback to a dark time in history best left untouched.
But these low points are few. The dozens of other impersonations are vivid, silly, sweetly conceived, passionately captured. It harkens back to the days when clowns were sent as barkers to advance the circus and lure paying customers into the big tent. Marchetto, like one of Fellini's clowns, takes you in, plays the fool, and won't let you go until you laugh some more, surrendering to his infectious wit. He should have a permanent slot on MTV -- a few seconds of musically choreographed insanity, to bring a needed levity to the often-pretentious videos that pass themselves off as art.
Yes, "Ennio!" is a gem. Yes, this performer is a must-see. Just when you think he has done it all, and he is actually going to collapse on stage from sheer exhaustion, he peels away another paper layer of wonderment. And then he takes you on another colorful journey of song, dance and imagination. You will finally leave the theater beaming from the joy.
At the Wimberly Theatre, Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont St., Boston, MA. Through June 1. For more information visit the Huntington Theatre Company website.