One Man, Two Guvnors
Also see Nancy's review of The Elephant Man
One Man, Two Guvnors revolves around the antics of the titular one man, Francis Henshall, who thinks himself sufficiently clever to serve two guvnors (masters). Seizing the opportunity for an extra meal ticket, the perpetually hungry Francis attempts to juggle the affairs, steamer trunks and desires of two small-time hoodlums, inevitably dropping the ball, crossing his wires and confusing the hell out of everybody. Fortunately for us, the Lyric Stage Company has Neil A. Casey in the lead role. His energy carries the play, ratcheting up the laughs with his ad libs and impish grin, and keeping the audience engaged when exposition or excess gets in the way of the comedy.
Playwright Richard Bean won acclaim for One Man, Two Guvnors, first in the United Kingdom (2011) and later on Broadway (2012) where it was nominated for seven Tony Awards (James Corden won for Best Actor in a Play). Lyric Stage Producing Artistic Director Spiro Veloudos, an avowed lover of farce, directs an ensemble of thirteen and succeeds in keeping all of the balls in the air. Music Director Catherine Stornetta on keyboard and three swell young musicians comprise the live band seated in view above stage left. She appears to have as much fun as anyone, rhythmically bopping her head throughout the fifteen musical numbers by Grant Olding. A trio of Davron S. Monroe, Harry McEnerny V and Chuong Pham (playing acoustic guitar) warms up the audience pre-curtain with a few upbeat tuners, and a girl group of Tiffany Chen, Aimee Doherty and McCaela Donovan channels The McGuire Sisters with tight harmony and matching 1960s-style cocktail dresses.
Chen, Doherty and Donovan are all fun to watch in featured roles as a dolt, a dame and a dissembler. Dale Place is tailor made for the tough guy who breaks down whenever he mentions his wife who ran off, and Larry Coen puffs himself up and spouts Latin as the former's crooked attorney. As the lawyer's son who wants to be an "actor" and is in love with Chen's character, Alejandro Simoes is outrageously over the top in a role that requires ridiculous overacting. Donovan and Dan Whelton are the two guvnors who also happen to be lovers, each unaware that Henshall is employed by the other.
Veteran Boston actor John Davin gives a master class in physical comedy as Alfie, an 87-year-old waiter (described in the script as old, slow and doddery). He takes a licking and keeps on ticking as he gets slammed by doors, punched in the nose, and takes every imaginable kind of pratfall. His timing is spot on whether he is plodding or scurrying about when Alfie's pacemaker gets turned up. Davin steals much of the last scene before the interval, but shares the limelight with a young woman who gets pulled out of the audience to add to the hijinks.
Casey is no slouch in the physical comedy department and has a field day, routinely breaking the fourth wall, enticing volunteers onstage from the audience and carrying on a slap fest with himself in one scene. He is a local treasure and it's great to see him back on a Boston stage after his absence in recent years. Francis is a demanding role, but Casey maintains his smile and energy level throughout. He nails (milks?) every laugh, but some parts of the play drag when the convoluted plot runs out of steam. It helps when a song pops up to enliven things.
Scenic Designer Matthew Whiton has crafted a playground to highlight the physical elements of the farce with parallel doors, stairs, ramps and one trap door, all of it brightly lit by Scott Clyve so we don't miss anything. The slamming doors and musical interludes benefit from the sound design by Andrew Duncan Will, and the various British dialects (coached by Nina Zendejas) are consistent and can be heard loud and clear. Costume Designer Tyler Kinney differentiates the social classes and professions of the characters and hews to the fashions of the decade.
One Man, Two Guvnors kicks off the Lyric's 40th anniversary season and is dedicated to the memory of a beloved colleague, Bob Jolly, who performed his final role as Ko-Ko in last season's production of The Mikado. The 2013-2014 schedule includes the Boston premieres of three plays, including a Pulitzer Prize winner, as well as musicals by Stephen Schwartz (composer of Pippin and Wicked) and Stephen Sondheim, and a new production of a great 20th century American play. It looks like Veloudos and company are on track to continue to provide theatre that "entertains, challenges, and provokes."
One Man, Two Guvnors performances through October 12 at Lyric Stage Company, 140 Clarendon Street, Boston, Massachusetts; Box Office 617-585-5678 or www.lyricstage.com. Written by Richard Bean, based on The Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni, with songs by Grand Olding; Directed and Staged by Spiro Veloudos; Music Direction and Musical Arrangements by Catherine Stornetta; Scenic Design, Matthew Whiton; Costume Design, Tyler Kinney; Lighting Design, Scott Clyve; Sound Design, Andrew Duncan Will; Makeup and Hair Design, Emily Damron; Dialect Coach, Nina Zendejas; Production Stage Manager, Nerys Powell
Cast (in order of appearance): Dale Place, Tiffany Chen, Larry Coen, Alejandro Simoes, Aimee Doherty, Davron S. Monroe, Neil A. Casey, McCaela Donovan, Dan Whelton, Harry McEnerny V, John Davin, Chuong Pham, James Blaszko