Thank goodness Ennio Marchetto never grew out of playing with paper dolls.
The Italian performer has made a hysterical return to New York for the first time in over a decade with a manic romp through popular culture dressed in his life-sized paper costumes and lip-syncing to iconic songs.
Marchetto's latest addictive, solo, 70-minute show, "ENNIO: The Living Paper Cartoon," is being presented at the 47th Street Theatre for nine performances as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival.
A quick-change specialist, Marchetto parodies dozens of artists — including Elvis, Dolly Parton, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Madonna and Eminem — while wearing cartoonish paper costumes with moving, hinged body parts.
Some of his costumes are silly — Parton's most famous assets are rendered as huge, bouncing flaps — and some are sly, as when his Bono morphs into Spider-Man singing Abba's "Money, Money, Money." Others are just plain weird: Cher turns in C-3PO from "Star Wars."
Dressed in a black unitard, Marchetto makes transitions from one character to the next either by ducking behind the curtain for a few seconds or by manipulating the paper costume onstage to reveal folds and hidden panels. His humor is not really malicious, more mocking. Like a paper cut.
He does it all with an expressive, plastic face, reminiscent of another Italian clown, Roberto Benigni. Marchetto is mute, offering no dialogue or explanation — he just throws himself into his pulsating, one-of-a-kind act.
Two of the best moments include a complicated transition between Celine Dion singing "My Heart Will Go On" into a paper rendering of the Titanic, along with two small paper dolls of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. The other is when he shows up dressed as a prim Queen Elizabeth II, regally listening to England's national anthem, before switching into Freddie Mercury from the band Queen, wearing black leather.
There's something at which everyone can snigger. Marchetto's pop knowledge stretches from The Three Tenors to Shakira, from Mary Poppins to Albert Einstein, from Kanye West to "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." He also knows his audience: For his big New York finale, he has Liza Minnelli morphing into the Statue of Liberty. It's a production that's worth a stop — before he folds it all up.