‘Triple Threat’ is a powerful exploration of spirit and recovery

James T. Lane in "Triple Threat" at Off-Broadway's Theatre Row.
James T. Lane in “Triple Threat” at Off-Broadway’s Theatre Row.
Jeremy Daniel

James T. Lane’s, bold and deeply moving new one-man show, “Triple Threat,” chronicles his harrowing personal journey through success to addiction and, happily, recovery. 

You would never know today that Lane, a powerhouse Broadway star who featured in the jubilant revivals of “Kiss Me, Kate” and “A Chorus Line,” the tour of “Ain’t Too Proud,” and, in a more serious vein, the company of “The Scottsboro Boys,” had such darkness in his backstory. That’s the point, and that’s what makes theater.

Lane is what Broadway considers a “triple threat” — actor, singer, dancer. Add writer to that list, but as he tells his story, he’s up against a trio of threats of a very different nature — Black, addict, gay. 

Moreover, Lane masters one of the most challenging theatrical genres — the one-person show — with much more than his charismatic presence. As Lane observes near the end of the piece for all his success, no one was creating art that reflected him, so he created his own, and it is this artistry that makes the show so riveting. With a combination of dance, lyrical writing, and multimedia presentation, Lane fills the stage with energy that has been precisely and powerfully directed and choreographed by Kenny Ingram.

The concept is that Lane is coming to an audition, and he’s asked what his middle initial T stands for. It’s Tyrone, and we’re off and running. Accepting for the sake of drama that this is an audition where the actor is only going to get to sing more than sixteen bars and speak a few lines, the story unfolds of a kids who grew up poor in Philadelphia, developed a love of theater, and moved to New York where he began to work. Though Lane had never drunk or used drugs, once he is introduced to ecstasy while on tour with the musical “Fame,” he begins a four-year downward spiral that lands him in a crack house, arrested for sex work, and homeless. 

This is not a confessional monologue, however. Lane brings to life many of the characters he’s encountered, from “Shero,” who despite being jailed for solicitation manages to keep the party going through her fierce wit, the lesbian couple who were always fighting except when they were high and in separate parts of their house, and his mother. Lane is so adept at portraying the characters, the stage often seems full, though, of course, he’s up there alone. 

Lane also portrays the mania that come with a crack high in a sequence that is nothing short of terrifying. It’s such an intense moment that it haunts the rest of the piece so that when Lane tells the story of his recovery and how he found his way back into the Broadway community — where he continues to thrive most recently as Billy Flynn in the long-running “Chicago” — there is a palpable sense that he might not have made it, and he acknowledges the many who have not.

Offstage, Lane is coming up on 19 years clean and sober, a remarkable feat in and of itself considering that only slightly more than a third of those afflicted with addiction recover.  There’s a long history of artists turning their dark biographies into theater. William Finn turned the arteriovenous malformation that required him to undergo risky surgery into the musical “A New Brain,” for example. 

When it works — as it does with both Lane and Finn — the result is a work that also has a universality. Lane, in his tour-de-force piece and performance, challenges us all to seek healing and keep going no matter what life throws our way.

Triple Threat | Theatre Row | 410 West 42nd Street | Mon, Thurs-Sun 7 p.m. through July 30 | Tickets from $39 | 75 minutes, no intermission