Wednesday, April 18, 2012

theatre review ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS, Broadway, April 8

In the new Broadway comedy One Man, Two Guvnors, James Corden is giving a hilarious performance that will most surely see him earn a Tony nomination for his efforts.  The play itself is a mash up of British Music Hall comedy, a variety show and farce and while it runs a tad too long, is still a fun show with some very funny performances

The play by Richard Bean is an updated homage to the Italian commedia classic The Servant of Two Masters written by Carlo Goldoni in the 1740s.  That play focuses on a harlequin who gets into comical situations while working for two bosses.   One Man, Two Guvnors, updates the locale to Brighton in the 1960's with the harlequin now a simple British man, Francis Henshall, who finds himself working for two bosses - one is a criminal in hiding, the other a local gangster who just recently killed a man.   Henshall, believing he has hit the jackpot by having two jobs at the same time, relishes in his new found wealth but with his constant cravings for food and women he unfortunately can't keep the two jobs straight while he also continually attempts to keep his two bosses from meeting each other. Hilarity ensues, along with about 10 original songs sung by a Beatles inspired band that are used as scene change filler as well as a preshow and intermission novelty.

Suzie Toase, Oliver Chris, James Corden and Jemima Rooper
Bean has done a pretty good job in combining the elements of farce with variety and music hall that includes mistaken identity, food fights, secret identities and the character of Hensall constantly breaking the fourth wall and interacting with the audience- a few of which find themselves up on stage.  Bean has crafted some great gag moments that provide Corden plenty of opportunities to show his comic abilities.  Now, the first 10 minutes of the play are slightly lackluster and with the somewhat thick English accents take a very focused effort to understand just what is going on.  Fortunately once Corden enters as Hensall, the energy of the show rises to a level that is kept for most of the remainder of the play. 

Oliver Chris and Tom Edden
The original songs by Grant Olding, sung by the Beatles-esque quartet, provide an interesting element to the show.  While they are period perfect, and there are references to the boys from Liverpool in the play, the songs, while fun and upbeat, sometimes go on a little too long and since there are only a few times when the songs themselves turn comical they end up stretching the play out.  The play, which runs 2 1/2 hours, would be funnier and tighter if all of the songs didn't end up running 3 to 4 minutes each.  I understand that they need the songs to cover some of the more elaborate scene changes, but some of the musical sequences could have easily been cut in half to keep the hijinks on stage from needing to be jump started every time a song ended and the play started up again.

James Corden and Jemima Rooper
Many members of the Broadway cast, along with Corden, starred in the 2011 UK version of the play that was a big hit in England.  Oliver Chris and Jemima Rooper as the two "Guvnors" in particular are spot on in their portrayals of their characters as well as in the specific style of acting the play requires.  Rooper, who plays a women who masquerades as her dead twin brother for most of the show perfectly gives two different performances depending on which character she is portraying.  I also enjoyed Suzie Toase as the sexy Dolly and Daniel Rigby as the young man who wants to be a serious actor.  Both perfectly exhibited the look, style and feel of 1960's England as well as the style of acting required for a comical, British farce.  Also, Tom Edden is the buffoon who ends up stumbling down stairs, being hit by doors and many other pratfall encounters.  He is a genius at physical comedy.

But Corden is the star here and he is a comic genius, expertly interacting with the various oddball characters on stage, providing plenty of funny bits with his many interactions with the audience and perfectly and easily gets the humor in the many gags he takes part in.  He also comes across as a very lovable harlequin which provides some heart to the whole affair. Corden will clearly be a Tony nominee come May as Best Actor in a Play.

Mark Thompson created the sets and costumes and he has created some simple yet effective pieces, including a lovely Brighton backdrop and an excellent set of stairs that descent down into the stage.  Director Nichols Hytner keeps the lunacy going and has crafted, along with Bean, some very inspired moments.

One Man, Two Guvnors is definitely the funniest show on Broadway right now and it officially opens tonight.

Official Show Site

Highlights from the show:

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