Theatre-goers, you have been warned. If you have entered the Music Box Theater to see the new comedy One Man, Two Guv’nors, you are in for much more than just watching a show. You may become part of the show.
Richard Bean’s adaptation of Carlo Goldoni’s 18th century Italian commedia del arte, The Servant of Two Masters, has been moved from 1746 Italy to 1963 Brighton, England. Directed by Nicholas Hytner, it is a briskly moving, smartly paced, engaging and entertaining night at the theater that shatters the fourth wall and invites the audience to join in on the fun.
It is hard to resist such an invitation, especially coming from James Corden, who stars as Francis, a man with two bosses, a voracious appetite and apparently no inhibitions. He is working for Roscoe (Jemima Rooper), who is engaged to the sweet but slightly stupid Pauline (Claire Lams). But marital bliss is far from sight, as Pauline actually loves the over-the-top actor Alan (a hilarious Daniel Rigby). And Roscoe isn’t actually Roscoe. He was murdered and is being impersonated by his sister Rachel, who is in love with Stanley (Oliver Chris), who happens to be the man who murdered Roscoe. Francis lusts for the sensual bookeeper Dolly (Suzie Toase), who works for Pauline’s father Charlie (Fred Ridgeway). Throw in a family lawyer (Martyn Ellis), an Anglo-African pub owner (Trevor Laird) and a couple of clumsy waiters (Ben Livingston and Tom Edden), and the gang’s all here.
It’s a very jovial gang, the members of which are seemingly up for anything, be it falling down stairs, physically fighting with oneself, cross-dressing or mooning the audience. And don’t think you won’t be a part of it. Audience members are frequently invited to join in on the fun. The round-faced, affable Corden smashes down the fourth wall, frequently addressing the audience directly. (An exchange regarding a sandwich that took place at the performance I attended was one of the funniest five minutes I have witnessed in a theatre in a long time. And yes, I did see The Book of Mormon last year.)
The show moves briskly, almost never pausing for breath except to change their costumes or sets (both designed by Mark Thompson and both timely and beautiful). And even the scene changes are entertaining, as cast members perform in front of the curtain with the talented and enjoyable band the Craze (Jason Rabinowitz, Austin Moorhead, Charlie Rosen and Jacob Colin Cohen, singing numbers by Grant Olding), who more than slightly resemble another British quartet that was popular in the United States. Staying in character, the cast members perform entertaining musical numbers on the xylophone, horns, ukulele, steel drums, and even their own bodies. (The Craze also performs onstage before the play begins.)
One Man, Two Guv’nors is a decidedly lighthearted play that is driven by the most simple and primal desires. In Act One, Francis wants food, and he will do almost anything to get it. It is his hunger that motivates him to take on the second boss, or guv’nor, in order to obtain a meal. In Act Two, he wants a woman. Mistaken identities and much frivolity abound as he determinedly pursues these objectives and the journey is nothing short of hilarious.
It isn’t often I see a “physical comedy director” listed in a Playbill, but Cal McMcrystal has earned the recognition. Physical comedy is the driving force of One Man, Two Guv’nors and it drives it with a robust energy that is delightful to witness. Corden excels at entertaining, especially during an Act One sequence where he is serving lunch to both bosses at the same time. (Alfie, a decrepit waiter played by Edden, also shines during this scene, falling or being knocked down the stairs more times than I could count.) Another priceless moment occurs when he begins arguing with himself and then gets into an actual physical fight – with himself – rolling across the stage, his arms flailing and his legs kicking.
Each member of the contributes greatly to the show’s comedic impact. As Roscoe and Rachel, Rooper delivers a solidly entertaining performance. Chris shines at Stanley, embodying just about every stereotype of a wealthy British man imaginable, and taking each one to the next level. He can say more with one arched eyebrow than other actors can with a monologue, and he temporarily stops the show when he dryly asks Francis, “You’re not exactly a Swiss Watch, are you?” Rigby is clearly having a great time as Alan, the actor, and watching him is just as fun. Literally striking poses every time he is walks onstage, Rigby is over-the-top entertaining. As Pauline, Alan’s love, Rooper is engaging and sweetly stupid.
The sexy and progressive Dolly is played by Toase in a confident and attractive performance. I was reluctant to think too seriously about any character in such a comedic show, but Dolly, who is presented as forward-thinking and progressive, stood out to me. Despite her form-fitting outfits, hip-swaying strut and her confident ownership of her sexuality, Dolly knows she is much more than an attractive body and requires respect from her suitors, even one as ridiculous as Francis. Her self-assurance was inspiring to watch, even in a madcap show like this one.
For an evening of non-stop laughs, this is the show for you. But I strongly advise against seeing it while hungry.