I cannot remember the last time I have laughed so hard during a Broadway show as I did during One Man, Two Guvnors’. I was crying. My stomach hurt. I thought I was going to die. The award winning London import, based on The Servant of two Masters, circa 1746, combines almost every style of comedy and schtick you can think of – from slapstick to deadpan to farce to improv. Throw in some audience participation and a dash of vaudeville and you get the most uproarious production in New York.
The main reason for such sustained hilarity is actor James Corden who plays the somewhat dimwitted, perpetually starved manservant, Francis Henshall, who suddenly finds himself in the employment of two Guvnors’ or bosses. He is the ringleader and instigator. When he is on stage you don’t know what is going to happen, except that nonstop laughter will be in the air.
The comedy even starts off with a curveball as the audience is treated to a number of songs by The Craze, a 1960’s skiffle band resplendent in their purple suits. Acting almost as a Greek Chorus, they provide background and commentary on what we are about to experience through their rocking, tuneful selections. They take the stage on and off throughout the show—many times accompanied by cast members on such instruments as the xylophone, ukulele and bicycle horns--providing their feel good music.
Trying to describe the plot of One Man, Two Guvnors’ would be an injustice to future audience members. Let it suffice that the action takes place in the seedy, beachfront town of Brighton, in the year 1963. Henshall, in the employment of two petty criminals, needs to keep them from meeting while trying to perform some very simple errands for both. Throw in mistaken identity and unrequited love and you have the ingredients for ceaseless merriment.
Playwright Richard Bean’s reinterpretation of Carlo Goldoni’s Commedia dell’Arte classic is smartly written as well as devastatingly funny with enough tricks and set-ups to keep the audience gasping for air. The side-splitting delirium is confined, for the most part, to Act I with the latter half of the show, while still full of laughs, is not as unrelenting in its mad-capped lunacy. Director Nicholas Hytner shows great fortitude and restraint in keeping the production’s hijinks from spinning out-of-control. He allows the actors great leeway in their quest to deliver unto us unremitting convulsions.
The actors. As earlier stated, James Corden is a bundle of unteethered energy. Whether it’s his interactions with his fellow thespians or exchanges with audience members his tour-de-force performance is deliriously intoxicating and will be remembered for years to come. His co-stars are no slouches themselves. Two of the most notable are Oliver Chris as Guvnor number two, Stanley Stubbers. Chris, almost as boneheaded as his manservant, Henshall, looks and acts as someone right out of a Monty Python sketch. His nonsensical utterings and absurdist actions are priceless. Just the entrance of Tom Edden, as the rubbery, elderly waiter Alfie, produces a howl of laughter throughout the Music Box Theater. His physical comedy and timing are impeccable.
One Man, Two Guvnors’ – indescribably delicious.