At the beginning of "Sexaholix . . . a Love Story," his new one-man show, John Leguizamo mimics the way various Latinos dance. As he struts back and forth across the stage, the music blares through the theater infectiously. Sometimes his prancing emphasizes his chest, other times his posterior. All the, while he grins mischievously as he announces which Hispanic group he is satirizing (and insulting). It is an outrageous, engaging piece of theater. There's nothing quite as juicy in the next two hours. In his earlier shows, "Mambo Mouth" and "Spic-O-Rama," Leguizamo introduced us to a bunch of wild characters. Here there's really only one, himself. He does imitate his friends, a series of caricatures. He also imitates his parents and grandparents - these imitations are more affectionate, but they're still cartoons. And he imitates the women in his life - who invariably have squeaky voices and are silly coquettes. This is true even of the one he likes, his current squeeze, who has borne him two children. (Early in the show, he jokes that the only reason he's doing "Sexaholix" is "to get the hell out of the house.") Although his imitations generally have a meanspirited quality, he does have funny observations about the people he's impersonating, as when he tells us his two children are half-Jewish and half-Puerto Rican, which means "they'll be able to dance and balance their own checkbooks." He reserves most of the best lines for himself, but occasionally he lets somebody have one, like the girlfriend going for an abortion who informs him, "It's not fair to kill the fetus and let the father live."
The main problem is that Leguizamo doesn't really view himself or the people in his world with any depth or insight. A lot of his jokes are generic. (One of his girlfriends, a die-hard feminist, harangues him about the weighting of language toward masculine values: "Why should it be herpes?" she asks. "Why not himpes?") The set is bare-bones, a brick wall at the back of the stage and a curtain of bare light bulbs. It is lit evocatively by Kevin Adams. There's certainly no shortage of energy as Leguizamo bounces around. There's also great rapport between him and his loyal, responsive audience. Unlike his previous efforts, however, which filled the stage with interesting people, here it's a notch above standup, raunchy standup to be sure. It would probably go down better with a couple of beers.
John Leguizamo is a force of nature, a volcano of words, a torrent of ideas. He moves a lot, too.His new one-man, multi-character show, "Sexaholix," opened last night at the Royale Theatre and it's a gas . . . sometimes gaseous, but that's life, and Leguizamo's purpose is to show the Latino life as he sees it.
Or rather, himself living the Latino life as he sees it. Or himself rebelling against the Latino life. Or simply him.
As in such earlier solo flights as "Mambo Mouth" and "Spic-O-Rama," Leguizamo's show is part autobiography, suitably tinted and tainted, and part fantasy therapy that has him re-creating his past from a couch consisting of a stage, fancy lighting and a microphone.
Maybe he should pay the audience. Yet, in fairness, we are royally entertained by his cartoon confessional, where the truth is clearly exaggerated but not, you feel, lost.
His frankness is his fortune. His willingness to discuss vital bits of the human experience relating to body parts and bodily functions is shocking, intriguing and funny - imagine Lenny Bruce reborn as a Puerto Rican with a salsa rhythm.
As in earlier shows, he takes on family and friends, acting them out, dancing them out and carrying them out, with a satirical cut and thrust that is both vicious and affectionate.
Nothing is sacred in this artistic cannibalism as Leguizamo cheerfully makes a meal out of a good joke. But this time, he ventures further and further into the realm of self-discovery.
The show is subtitled "a love story," and the love is partly Leguizamo's for Leguizamo. No one ever did a one-man show without either a healthy ego or the desire to obtain one.
But it is also Leguizamo's personal adventures in the skin trade, his special odyssey ending in a soul mate and his own nuclear family, that takes him from adolescent angst, experience with an older woman, marriage to a Latino actress, divorce and, finally, true love.
If it sounds sentimental, you haven't heard Leguizamo tell it. If it sounds self-indulgent, well, at times it is. But Leguizamo's virtues are his voracious vitality, vivid acting - he brings everything to life, and life to everything - and his total understanding that while love is a serious business, sex is not only fun, it's very funny.
The show has been so skillfully directed by Peter Askin that unless you looked at the Playbill, you might not notice it had been directed at all. Askin could have done Leguizamo a service had he insisted on a few cuts.
But it's a good, exhilarating evening, and when a guy is determined to spill his guts, I guess you just have to let them roll.
So just where is the engine that propels the perpetual motion machine named John Leguizamo? Early evidence indicated that it might be the rubbery, jittery organ he referred to as ''Mambo Mouth,'' the title of this comic actor's cultural self-portrait of 1991, or the hyperactive brain that peeked through his glittering, restless eyes in subsequent shows like ''Spic-O-Rama'' and ''Freak,'' his Broadway debut.
But the testimony of his most recent performance in ''Sexaholix,'' which opened last night, confirms that what makes Mr. Leguizamo run is located farther south in his anatomy. His hips, it seems, are tuned in to an irresistible music that keeps them moving, pistonlike, from the moment he makes his entrance, slide-stepping backward across the stage of the Royale Theater.
Mr. Leguizamo identifies this pulse as ''the heartbeat of all Latin people.'' It could just as easily be called the rhythm of life.
As its title promises, ''Sexaholix'' is all about sex and the pleasure and trouble it causes. For Mr. Leguizamo, this most primal of drives is directly linked to the urges to dance, to perform, to charm, to create. And not incidentally, to procreate, since he now finds himself the father of two young children, to his delight and dismay.
This is by no means an original discovery. Nor, examined dispassionately, is the material in ''Sexaholix'' many cuts above all those rib-nudging stand-up routines that emerged in the long shadow of Lenny Bruce.
But Mr. Leguizamo isn't about to let you examine him dispassionately. He keeps his energy at the nuclear level, giving radioactive body English (all right, make that body Spanish) to every one-liner.
That energy spills right over the footlights, turning Mr. Leguizamo's audience into the sort of noisy, reactive body usually found these days mostly at rock concerts and soccer matches. Under Peter Askin's direction, Mr. Leguizamo uses his sheer intensity of presence to turn comedy club material into something large and vital enough to fill a Broadway house to the bursting point.
This is essential since ''Sexaholix'' uses more traditional elements of stand-up, including a microphone, than any of Mr. Leguizamo's previous shows. And there are even jokes of the groaning variety that beg the audience to shout out questions along the lines of ''How tough was it?''
But Mr. Leguizamo's punch lines are as much physical as verbal, making his humor something best savored in the immediacy of live theater. (When you see him in films, you get only an inkling of the way he can charge the air with electricity.)
Classic case in point: talking about the apartment he once shared with a girlfriend, he says it was so small that the furniture was painted on the wall. What gives this chestnut its flavor is how Mr. Leguizamo proceeds to demonstrate the difficulty of sitting on two-dimensional furniture. Within a matter of several seconds, he has managed to bounce off every one of that tiny apartment's walls.
Or there is Mr. Leguizamo remembering his mother's asking him to turn on the radio so ''the neighbors can't hear you'' when she whips him. What's funny is what follows, as Mr. Leguizamo, playing both mother and son, transforms an exercise in parental discipline into a vivid St. Vitus's dance he says marked the birth of Latin hip-hop.
''Sexaholix'' covers much of the same autobiographical territory plowed several years ago in ''Freak.'' Once again Mr. Leguizamo incarnates assorted members of the passionately scrappy family with which he grew up in Queens (most memorably, his swaggering father), as well as various friends and objects of desire from the 'hood.
Erotic discovery, an essential element of ''Freak,'' is even more dominant in ''Sexaholix.'' Mr. Leguizamo traces its defining presence in everyone from his younger brother as a child (looking at pictures of naked natives in the encyclopedia) to his geriatric grandparents.
The show also maps the tortured route of Mr. Leguizamo's own sexual and sentimental education, from his teenage pursuit of a teasing policeman's daughter he calls Rapunzel Garcia to his current relationship with the mother of his children, a woman he says he can't give up because she calls him on his bilge and is still sweet about it.
In between there are snapshots of his promiscuous college years, his cohabitation with an older divorcee and his short-lived marriage to an actress he had hoped to make over in his own image as a ''Girlfriendenstein.'' Sex is recalled with precision and lots of annotative pelvic thrusts, but also with a Puckish distance regarding carnal foolishness.
Like many comedians Mr. Leguizamo is most palpably present when he is portraying someone other than himself. In extracting the lessons of his sensual odyssey, he has a tendency to spell things out too deliberately. Some of the characterizations of the women in his life, especially the peevish actress, verge on misogyny. And you've probably previously seen or heard some version on most of the comic set pieces delivered here, from the dialogue with his knuckleheaded boyhood chums to the sexual instruction from an older woman.
But such categorizations don't begin to capture the theatrical dynamics that make ''Sexaholix'' vibrate: the continuing magic shifts in posture and expression that evoke a whole spectrum of ethnic and sexual identities.
Mr. Leguizamo's portrayal of the ambivalence that the birth of his first child inspires is in some respects so familiar as to cloy. But that's not taking into account what he does with his hands and face to show the gradual emergence of the baby's head. The wonder is in the action, not the words.
What makes ''Sexaholix'' so alive is its awareness of how everyone is a prisoner of that fallible, insistent organism known as the human body. Fortunately for New York audiences, Mr. Leguizamo shows how skin and bones, properly manipulated, can be more eloquent on this point than any philosophical treatise.
Whether he's bouncing across the stage like a wayward ping-pong ball or gyrating in the aisles, his electric-powered pelvis working overtime, John Leguizamo seems to be a perpetual-motion machine. He's like a restless teenager who's been grounded for a week and, freed at last, can't sit still for a second. Through much of the nearly two hours of "Sexaholix," his new solo show on Broadway, the stage crackles with the adrenaline of a born performer showboating happily in the spotlight.
The physical exuberance he brings to this story of his sentimental miseducation (OK, sexual miseducation) is both welcome and necessary, since in terms of substance "Sexaholix" is considerably thinner and less artfully arranged than Leguizamo's previous Broadway outing, "Freak." It's essentially a scattershot evening of resplendently raunchy ethnic humor, probably strictly for staunch Leguizamo fans, of which there are clearly enough to fill the Royale for the remaining month of the show's limited engagement. (The official opening was delayed by a month by a hamstring injury; certainly no evidence of lingering discomfort remains.)
The show begins with what might have been outtakes from "Freak," bitterly funny tales of Leguizamo's Queens childhood. His parsimonious, indifferent dad ("You think we're poor? If I hadn't been a boy I'd have had nothing to play with!" pop says) and overworked mother eventually divorce. Grandparents deteriorate comically. Relationship advice and other philosophy from dad will pepper the show: "Life is pain, failure, misery and Budweiser" is among the pithiest morsels.
Leguizamo mostly spent his randy teenage years pining for a girl he and his amusingly portrayed pals nicknamed Rapunzel for her geographic inaccessibility (third-floor apartment, Mafioso dad). Later Leguizamo hooks up with a worldly waitress named Penny, who gets inopportunely pregnant ("Are you sure it's yours?" asks he) and later dumps him. First-act finale is a sort of emotional catharsis in a karaoke bar that, like several of the anecdotes here, promises to be more clever than it is.
Eventually a kind of emotional maturity arrives, and act two traces a more sentimental arc that includes the arrival of true love (though not marriage) with an unlikely mate, a Jewish girl Leguizamo met on a film set in L.A., and fatherhood, too.
Directed by Peter Askin ("Hedwig and the Angry Inch"), the show would be improved by cutting out the intermission and tightening up the meandering second act, but the performer's affectionate fans don't seem to notice the lapses in pacing.
When Tony time came around, "Freak" successfully argued its case as a candidate for best play; "Sexaholix" isn't likely to claim the same privileges. Although Leguizamo is a brilliant mimic, and he impersonates a good dozen characters throughout the show, "Sexaholix" is more clearly in the standup vein. It's just that this standup never sits still.