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LA Theater Review

Canned Ham

The title of Tom Judson's autobiographical solo show might lead one to anticipate self-indulgent shenanigans, but in Judson's refreshingly unpretentious string of anecdotes, this New York–born performer proves to be an ingratiating and captivating storyteller. Actor-singer-musician-songwriter Judson has experienced unorthodox career paths, and he wastes no time in sharing his remarkable adventures with us—some hilarious, some touching, and some on the bawdy side.

The show opens with Judson seated center stage, playing an accordion and singing "Lullaby of Broadway." In short order, he tells us he played in the 2003 national tour of the "42nd Street" revival and was on Broadway in the "Cabaret" revival starring Alan Cumming. He shares a secret as to how a nondancer finagled his way into the casts of big musicals like these. He briefly mentions his other showbiz endeavors, such as musical accompanist and as songwriter (for "Sesame Street" and other TV shows and films).

His accomplishments in music and theater made a startling career segue, when Judson, at 42, met gay-porn producer-director ChiChi LaRue and was invited to become a porn performer. In brief but graphic detail, he describes his first day on the set. Appearing under the name Gus Mattox, Judson remained in the business for two years, then decided to make a hasty exit, but not before becoming the oldest performer ever to win the GayVN Performer of the Year award.

Much of the show is breezy and upbeat, but Judson allows himself moments of poignant reflection, as when describing his lover Bruce Birnbaum's death of AIDS complications in 1996, and Judson's subsequent close call in almost committing suicide. His vehicle is more enjoyable than exceptional. Yet it comes across as a from-the-heart piece, maintaining an easygoing charm during the 75-minute running time, smoothly directed by Kevin Malony.

To satisfy potential curiosity, the title refers to the old silver camper that Judson bought from a friend in the Catskills for $100 and fixed up, allowing this jack-of-all-trades to become a king of the road, moving across the country seeking new adventures in his latest career niche, as a troubadour.

Presented by Tweed Theatreworks and Kearns Artist Services in association with Chi Chi LaRue Productions at the Cavern Club Celebrity Theater, Casito Del Campo, 1920 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake. April 30–May 16. Fri.–Sat., 9 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. (323) 969-2530. 

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