Regional Reviews: Phoenix
One Man, Two Guvnors
The play is an updated homage to the Italian commedia dell'arte classic The Servant of Two Masters written by Carlo Goldoni in the 1740s. That play focuses on a harlequin who gets into comical situations while working for two bosses. One Man, Two Guvnors updates the locale to Brighton in the 1960s with the harlequin now a simple British man, Francis Henshall, who finds himself working for two bosses: one is a criminal in hiding, the other a local gangster who just recently killed a man. Henshall, believing he has hit the jackpot by having two jobs at the same time, relishes his new found wealth. But with his constant cravings for food and women always on his mind, he unfortunately can't keep the two jobs straight. He also has to ensure that his two bosses never meet, which adds plenty of farcical situations and slapstick comedy bits. Needless to say, hilarity ensues. There are also about ten fun, original songs that are used as scene-change filler. While the play runs a tad too long, waning a bit in the second act, it is still a very funny show with some very funny performances.
Bean has done a pretty good job of combining the elements of farce with variety and music hall, with the results including mistaken identity, pratfalls, secret identities, and the character of Henshall constantly breaking the fourth wall and interacting with the audience membersa few of whom find themselves up on stage. Bean has crafted some great gag moments that provide May plenty of opportunities to show his comic abilities. Now, the first 10 minutes of the play are slightly confusing with the introduction of many characters and plot points, which would seem to take a focused effort to understand just what is going on. But don't worry, as the important situations are brought up again and, once May enters as Henshall, the energy rises to a level that is sustained for most of the remainder of the play.
The songs by Grant Olding were originally sung in both the London and Broadway productions of the show by a Beatles-esque quartet. For this production, the cast sings the songs instead, which is a wise directorial choice by Pasha Yamotahari. While it did make sense to have the songs originally played by a band, since the original arrangements for the songs were reminiscent of the Beatles and there are references to the boys from Liverpool in the play, it adds a whole new dimension to have the cast step out of the play to sing them. It also shows off just how multi-talented the cast is.
May is the star here and he is a comic genius. He gives it his all and flings himself about the stage, attempting to avert disaster at every possible turn, while at the same time also having a sweet engagement with the audience. May doesn't oversell the comedy, instead giving many of the comedic lines a soft delivery, which actually works better and makes the humor more organic. He expertly interacts with the other actors playing various oddball characters, provides plenty of funny bits with his many interactions with the audience, and perfectly gets the humor in the many gags he takes part in. He also comes across as a very lovable harlequin, which provides some heart to the whole affair. I saw James Corden play the part on Broadway, and May is just as good as Corden was.
May and the entire cast instill their characters with comical traits and throw themselves into the roles with equal abandonment. They also have to elicit an improvisational feel to their parts, even though some of the improv is meticulously scripted, and they all deliver in spades. Jenny Hintze and Michael Kary are the two "Guvnors" and they both deliver very good performances. Hintze, who plays a women who masquerades as her dead twin brother for most of the show, gives two slightly different performances depending on which character she is portraying, both equally good. Kary is a gem as the stiff upper-lip English gentleman who just happens to be a murderer. His crisp accent is matched by the clear upper class sensibilities he brings to the part. Marisa Butler is fun as the sexy Dolly, and Lucas Coatney has a perfect over the top delivery as Alan Dangle, who wants to be a serious actor so he delivers every word as if he's in a serious play. Robert Kolby Harper, Walter Belcher, Ashley Stults, and David Vining all exhibit the look, style and feel of 1960s England as well as the style of acting required for a British farce, with Stults a hoot as the daft Pauline. David Barker is the buffoon who ends up stumbling down the stairs, being hit by doors, and engaging in many other pratfall encounters. He is quite adept at physical comedy. Joseph Kremer and Alli Villines round out the comedic ensemble with Villines providing some fun comedic moments in act one as well as some nice musical ones in the second act.
Director Pasha Yamotahari keeps the lunacy going at a fever pitch and has crafted, along with Bean, some very inspired moments. Nick Mozak's set design uses a few flats and moveable pieces to quickly establish the various settings of the play and Cari Sue Smith's costumes are nice throw backs to the swinging '60s. Alan Ruch provides the fun onstage musical accompaniment.
With multiple laugh out loud moments and a fun cast led by a superb performance by Ron May, Phoenix Theatre's One Man, Two Guvnors is definitely the funniest show in town.
One Man, Two Guvnors runs through June 14th, 2015, at the Phoenix Theatre at 100 E. McDowell Road in Phoenix. Tickets can be purchased at phoenixtheatre.com or by calling (602) 254-2151.
Pasha Yamotahari: Director / Fight Choreographer
Cast: In alphabetical order)