On the day before the Tony Awards 2012, I strode to the TKTS at Duffy Square, (right in the heart of Times Square) with the intention of seeing something, though it was nearly difficult to pick from the discounted shows offered. You see, aside from the Usual Suspects not on the TKTS board (namely, Wicked, The Book of Mormon, Porgy & Bess, Harvey and The Lion King), just about every Broadway musical and play was up on the TKTS board with at least a 40% discount.
There were several factors to consider – there were the newer, Tony-nominated shows, of which, (depending on how the awards are handed out), would announce their closing performance date or would no longer be on the TKTS board; then there were shows that had already announced their closing dates, and some shows that had previous not had discounts available on TKTS. Should I go see Priscilla Queen of the Desert again before it closes? Or should I go see Peter and the Starcatcher? Once? Nice Work If You Can Get It? Evita? War Horse? Jersey Boys? For once, there were too many choices, and in for this season of shows, I didn’t have a show on which I quasi-fixated (unlike a certain show two years ago, but that’s for another blog…).
So after a bit of internal debate (and a lot of pondering) I joined the Express Play line (which is usually shorter than the general line, as most theater goers opt to see musicals) and chose to see One Man, Two Guvnors, and obtained a rear orchestra (right) seat. Clearly the Music Box Theatre is now my go-to theater for hilarious comedies, as I’ve realized (after the fact) that the last three plays I had seen at this theater – Lend Me a Tenor, La Bête and Shatner’s World – We Just Live In It – left me with bellyaches of laughter and resulted in the deepening of the smile lines around my mouth.
One Man, Two Guvnors is one of the funniest plays I’ve seen in recent years, though technically speaking, it is a play with music, as the production features a quartet called “The Craze” consisting of Jason Rabinowitz (lead vocals), Austin Moorhead (lead guitar), Charlie Rosen (bass) and Jacob Colin Cohen (percussion), who play a set of songs before and throughout the play (and also during intermission). I now firmly believe that every Broadway show, both play and musical should all have an in-house band or act to entertain the audience at least before the show (intermission optional) – much better than just sitting and waiting for the show to start, especially for those who get to the theatre early or at least on time (and considering the price of theatre tickets these days, I’d want to get my money’s worth).
Given the source material is Commedia dell’Arte, it should not be surprising that the play is a farce, and a British one at that, so in addition to the usual slapstick humor, mistaken identities and comedic mayhem, there’s Cockney slang, double entendres, and British accents. The play is set in the seaside town of Brighton in 1963 and tells the tale of Francis Henshall, played by the charming and hilarious James Corden, a good-natured yet easily confused guy with a voracious appetite, who finds himself (quite inadvertently) in the employ of two guvnors (the British term for an employer), both of whom are not quite on the right side of the law. Naturally, hilarity and chaos ensue as the complicated lives of the two guvnors intertwine and Francis has the arduous task to keep one from knowing that he is the employ of the other. Of course it doesn’t help that he adds to the confusion before everything is happily resolved.
The fourth wall is consistently broken throughout the play by Francis, often addressing the audience directly, and even bringing up some audience members (those lucky few in the first row) for a bit of audience participation – though I must say the afternoon I saw the play, I think there was more improvisation than usual. Since this was my first time seeing the play, I don’t know if certain things were anticipated or if it was truly improvisation. As previously mentioned, Francis is constantly hungry (not such a good thing) and is consistently short of money (definitely not a good thing) – so at one point in a scene he asks the (rhetorical) question “Does anyone have a sandwich?” to which several audience members respond in kind – one person in the mezzanine section offers him a sandwich, while another sitting mid orchestra right tosses him a Rice Krispies Treat (which gets eaten by another cast member once the scene is restarted).
This lengthy banter seemed to have stopped the show, as James Corden (doing his best to not break character too much) explained that the question was part of the play and definitely rhetorical. So the scene restarts right before the aforementioned line, and sure enough, after he delivers the line again, someone else (somewhere in the mid orchestra left) offers him a sandwich, to which he (clearly) ad-libs, “Oh come on, we’ve just been through this!”, then asks the audience member what kind of sandwich (humus) – “Oh, you can keep it”, and then proceeds to continue with the scene, but not before informing the audience that we had effectively ruined an ensemble member’s two lines (he only had three lines in the entire play). Oh well.
[Brief update/disclaimer: my boss had gone to see the play over the weekend, and he stated that this entire bit was indeed part of the show, which, in hindsight, I should have suspected, but at the time it was brilliantly executed and does confirm the sheer talent of James Corden and his ability to make a scripted scene look like it was improvised.]
The role of Francis Henshall is certainly James Corden’s tour de force, with his cheeky smile, comic timing and his sheer commitment to do just about anything for a laugh. The rest of the cast was top-notch, with Daniel Rigby and Todd Edden as worthy contenders for the award for the Best Scene Stealer (which would be an awesome Tony Award category…) As Alan Dingle, Daniel Rigby brilliantly encapsulates the psyche of the Actor, dressed in black and spouting grand (often Shakespearean) proclamations before dramatically exiting the stage – it can almost come across as cliché, but never does. Tony Award nominated Todd Edden is outstanding as Alfie, the octogenarian waiter, with his shaky hands and (often) dialed-up pacemaker, who is the hapless recipient of much of the comedic mayhem that is dished out at a semi-regular basis.
Considering that it was the day before the Tony Awards, it seemed as if the stars were in town and at the theater – I spotted Patrick Duffy in the lobby before the show, caught a glimpse of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones during intermission, and saw Tony Roberts as he exited the theater (someone also stated that Bernadette Peters was also in the attendance, but I didn’t see her). The stage door experience was interesting in the fact that there were no steel barricades surrounding the stage door, which was right next to the entrance between the Music Box and the Imperial, where Nice Work If You Can Get It is currently playing. Since Nice Work If You Can Get It ends roughly the same time One Man, Two Guvnors does, there were some theater goers from that show waiting at the Music Box stage door – I dutifully directed them to the correct location, which is around the other side of the theater on W46th Street. There weren’t too many other theater goers waiting at the stage door, either (but I suspect that may change very soon) – most of the cast came out the stage door and signed playbills and posters (and posed for photos).
I highly recommend One Man, Two Guvnors if you’re looking for a good laugh and great music.
Update (albeit late): Hearty congratulations to James Corden for his well-deserved win as the 2012 Best Actor in a Play (and against notable actors James Earl Jones, John Lithgow, Frank Langella and Phillip Seymour Hoffman!) His Tony speech was remarkable, humble and sweet, and his brief performance of the scene wherein he fights with himself was astounding.
Update 09/02/2012: I had fully intended to see the final performance, but was unable to obtain a ticket, or rather, was not willing to pay full price [$142!] , it had been announced that there would be no standing room seats and no discount codes were being honored). Nevertheless, I passed by the stage door after the show’s end and saw a massive throng of people with cameras at the ready) waiting at the stage door. There was the usual amount of cheering when the cast came out, and dutifully signed playbills, posters and even one kid’s red sneaker (why, I don’t know). It’s always heartwarming to see such outpouring of appreciation for an outstanding cast of amazing actors.