Wednesday, April 18, 2012

One Man, Two Guvnors Takes Broadway

Lately I have hated a lot of the shows I have seen. I even went so far as to pronounce my inner child dead.  But after seeing One Man, Two Guvnors again, I think my inner child might have been resurrected.

I loved the show when I saw it on tour in the U.K. and nothing has shaken my love of One Man, Two Guvnors now that it finally washed ashore on Broadway.  An unabashed farce, One Man, Two Guvnors written by Richard Bean, and directed by Nicholas Hytner, merrily rolls into town and I think you'd have to be made of stone not to fall for its charms.

EVEN I LIKED IT--something they should put on the posters.

Though the story is merely the backdrop for the Commedia dell'Arte shenanigans (hunger and lust being the primary motivators)...the plot centers on hungry Francis Henshall (James Corden) who gets hired by Rachel Crabbe (Jemima Rooper) who is impersonating her gay brother Roscoe in an attempt to hide out because her boyfriend, posh boarding school bred Stanley Stubbers (Oliver Chris), has killed Roscoe.  Rachel and Stanley both come to Brighton not knowing the other is there and hire Francis to work for them.  In an arrangement with Charlie "the Duck" Clench (Fred Ridgeway), Roscoe was engaged to marry Charlie's daughter Pauline (Claire Lams).  But Pauline loves actor and overall ham Alan Dangle (Daniel Rigby).  Dolly (Suzie Toase), who works for Charlie, has a thing for Francis. 

Setting the stage for the tone of 1960's Brighton is a skiffle band that opens the show, plays during scene changes and eventually each member of the cast joins in.  The original band The Craze is still performing with the production in England, so they have created an American version of The Craze (Jason Rabinowitz, Austin Moorhead, Charlie Rosen, Jacob Colin Cohen). The music is buoyant and tuneful and sustains the frenetic energy of the show between scene changes.

James Corden leads the stellar cast.  Corden (a former History Boy and he was the star and co-writer of one of my favorite TV shows of all time Gavin and Stacey), wins over the audience with his physical comedy, comic interactions with the audience, and sweet persona.  He is so winning and talented you won't be able to spot the scripted from the improvisational in the show. 

The rest of the cast keeps the energy high and the laughs flying.  My favorite remains the stuffy, ridiculous interpretation of the upper-class guvnor by Oliver Chris.  I thought this was an exaggerated performance of a "public school" accent until I happened to work with a guy who sounded JUST LIKE THAT (with the yawp-yawp-yawps included).  After not warming to Jemima Rooper the first time around, I have to say I enjoyed her performance a lot more this time.  She felt more integrated into the comic ensemble. There are not enough words to praise the incredible physical pratfall work of Tom Edden.  Daniel Rigby remains sincere and hilarious with his overwrought "acting" as Alan.  The entire cast makes it all look so effortless. 

I had worried when I first saw the show that the accents and slang would be troublesome for U.S. audiences.  My friend and I definitely struggled with it at that performance.  They have made some slight tweaks to dialogue and it seemed to me the accents have become easier to understand.  Frankly, most people are laughing through so many of the lines that what they say takes a backseat to the physical comedy.  But you won't mind. 

As for the material itself, the opening scene drags a bit because there is great deal of exposition to get out.  Once you make it through that, the remainder of Act I is a non-stop joy-romp.  So just bear with the first scene.  The laughs will come.  The final scene in Act I might cause you to pee your pants.  Consider yourself warned.  Act II is often funny but takes a bit longer than I would have liked to get everything neatly wrapped up.  But it did not seem to matter to me either time I saw it because of the generous amount of mirth the show delivered.

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