Friday, April 27, 2012

One Man, Two Guvnors at The Music Box Theatre

If there was a way to truly convey through the written word the gut-busting merriment now appearing on The Music Box stage you would have a sense of why One Man, Two Guvnors is the funniest show on Broadway this season.    From start to finish this beautiful update of Carlo Goldini's 1746 commedia-inspired masterpiece, The Servant of Two Masters, barely leaves you time to catch your breath, except perhaps to dab your eyes from tears of joy.    This import from the West End and The National Theatre of Great Britain, expertly staged by Nicholas Hytner, works its magic simply because the entire ensemble embraces the absurdity of their characters without a tinge of irony.

Richard Bean's adaptation wises makes no changes to Goldini's original tale.   From Italy in 1746  to Brighton in the early 1960's we go.  Charlie "The Duck" Clench is in debt to the gangster, Roscoe Crabbe, and has betrothed his daughter Pauline to him.   Pauline is desperately in love with aspiring actor Alan Dangle.  At the beginning of the play they receive welcome word that Roscoe has died. To their surprise, Roscoe appears with his put-upon servant, Francis Henshall in tow.   Roscoe is desperate to obtain the money he is owed so that he can get out of town.   Francis is desperate to obtain lunch.  To that end, while waiting for his master, he gets himself hired as servant to Stanley Stubbers, a dashing young man laying low because he has killed Roscoe. Confused?  It turns out that our Roscoe is really Rachel, Roscoe's identical twin sister, who is desperately in love with her brother's killer, Stanley.  Rachel is trying to collect her brother's debts so that she and Stanley can run away together.  Poor Francis juggles his two masters in the hopes that he can get twice the lunch, twice the wages and the love of the beautiful secretary, Dolly.   In the mayhem that ensues will these mixed up couples find true love? Will Alan earn an Academy Award?  Will Francis ever get lunch?  What will happen to poor Alfie?

One Man, Two Guvnors is the perfect farce.  It embraces its origins in the Italian commedia dell'arte, with its stock characters and absurd scenarios and mixes it brilliantly with best elements of the British sex comedies of the swinging '60's.    It is inspired to take the musical interludes built into Goldini's original play and transform them into a musical score reminiscent of the British invasion pop groups.  While the lyrics are fun and the tunes hummable, they also provide subtle commentary on the action. Grant Olding's songs are provided by The Craze - Jason Rabinowitz, Austin Moorhead, Charlie Rosen and Jacob Colin Cohen who liven up the proceedings before the show and between scenes.

Not that the acting ensemble needs any help in that department.  Farce works best when the acting is genuine and the entire company takes their stock characters and brings them to full-bodied life.   From Claire Lams air-headed Pauline to Daniel Rigby's Actor with a capital A Alan everyone is perfectly cast.  Oliver Criss' Stanley Stubbers is very reminiscent of P.G. Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster.  Jemima Rooper in the trousers role of Rachel juggles with finesse  the menacing gangster and the lovelorn girl.  Suzie Toase's Dolly wraps Francis around her ample assets as the wisecracking secretary.

Tom Edden gives an amazing performance in the small role of Alfie, the elderly waiter assigned to assist Francis with the two lunches he must serve simultaneously. Mr. Edden's nimble physicality and expressive face have earned him several worthy award nominations for his performance.  Do not be surprised if he picks up a Tony nomination for his efforts.

A Tony nomination is also inevitable for our brash servant, Francis Henshall.  James Corden is energetic, vivacious and wickedly bold in the title role.   Incredibly nimble whether physically or using his wit, Mr. Corden is in complete charge of the evening from start to finish.   Beware the member of the audience whose laugh catches Mr. Corden's ear.   For yes, in the tradition of commedia and pantomime, the audience is fair game.   One Man, Two Guvnors contains several opportunities for audience interaction, both verbal and....well let's just say those premium seats make for easy targets.

If you are looking for a Broadway show that will exercise your funny bone, One Man, Two Guvnors is the show for you.

One Man, Two Guvnors is being presented at The Music Box Theatre on Broadway.  For tickets please visit


  1. One Man, Two Guvnors received four Outer Critics Circle Nominations - Outstanding New Broadway Play, Director, James Corden for actor and Tom Edden for Featured Actor.

  2. One Man, Two Guvnors received a Drama League nomination for Distinguished Production of a Play. James Corden received a nomination for the Distinguished Performance Award. This award can only be won by a performer once in their career.

  3. One Man, Two Guvnors received three Drama Desk Award nominations - James Corden for actor in a play, Tom Edden for featured actor in a play and music in a play

  4. One Man, Two Guvnors received the following 2012 Tony Award Nominations - Performance by a Leading Man in a Play - James Corden, Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play - Tom Edden, Original Score (music and/or lyrics) written for the theater - Grand Olding, Scenic Design of a Play - Mark Thompson, Costume Design of a Play - Mark Thompson, Sound Design of a Play - Paul Arditti and Direction of a Play - Nicholas Hytner

  5. One Man, Two Guvnors won the following 2012 Outer Critics Circle Awards - Outstanding Actor in a Play - James Corden, Outstanding Director of a Play - Nicholas Hytner and Outstanding New Broadway Play.