ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORSby Richard Bean
Directed by Terry Martin
Musical Director - Sonny Franks
Assistant Director - Diana Sheehan
Stage Manager - Caron Gitelman Grant
Assistant Stage Manager - Bonnie Hanvey
Set Designer - Chris Pickart
Costume Designer - Sylvia Fuhrken
Properties Designer – Tish Mussey
Lighting Designer - Leann Burns
Sound Designer - Scott Guenther
Choreographer - Jeremy Dumont
Physical Comedy Consultant - Jeff Colangelo
Dialect Coach - Sara Lovett
Dramaturg - Kyle Eric Bradford
Francis Henshall - Brian Gonzales
Stanley Stubbers - John-Michael Marrs
Rachel Crabbe - Alexandra Lawrence
Harry Dangle - Bradley Campbell
Charlie "The Duck" Clench - Sonny Franks
Lloyd Boateng - Erik Jenkins
Pauline Clench - Allison Bret
Alan Dangle - Mitchell Stephens
Dolly - Ashley Puckett Gonzales
Alfie - Jeff Colangelo
Ensemble - Jake Bullock, Jerry Downey, Janae Hatchett, Alex Heika, Christia Schmidt, Seth Womack and Isaac Young
Band: The Quid
Guitar - Ian Ferguson
Guitar - Alan Murphy
Bass - Sara Bollinger
Drums - Alan Pollard
Reviewed Performance: 8/8/2016
Reviewed by Charlie Bowles, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
One Man, Two Guvnors is the latter case. Written by Richard Bean, it opened in London in 2011 and has since had numerous runs around the world. It opened on Broadway in 2012 with James Corden reprising his originating role as Francis. That run filled the Tony’s with nominations and Corden won for Best Actor.
I saw this on National Theatre Live in 2011 with Cordon playing the lead. By then, it had already produced exuberant audiences and it was easy to see why. I didn’t see it on Broadway, but now is your chance to jump on this bandwagon and see for yourself if it lives up to the hype. It opened in its Regional Premiere at Water Tower Theatre and it’s already wowing DFW audiences.
One Man, Two Guvnors is not so much a play as an English comedic farce with a lot of slapstick and pratfalls, a combo hootenanny and 1960s musical revue, and major audience participation. It’s a star vehicle for the lead, because it calls for him to interact with the audience throughout the show. Since Corden got a night-job on late night TV, the Water Tower production was given over to a man who understudied Corden. Brian Gonzales is a native Dallasite, currently known for his role in Aladdin on Broadway. To say Gonzales resembles Corden is understatement, but he also has his unique style that made this Monday night performance a mad-cap experience of surprise throughout the show.
It’s a simple, everyday story. Francis Henshall works two jobs in 1963 Brighton, for two different criminals, who are related in surprising ways. One of them is dead and his twin sister impersonates her brother. All Francis has to do is serve two masters while keeping them separate and ignorant of his double-dipping. “What could possibly go wrong,” he asks? Brian Gonzales is a natural for this show. Like Corden before him, he looks, acts and sounds like Francis Henshall. His repartee with fellow cast members seems comfortable and unforced, though he has the cache of Broadway and a growing success around him. This is an extremely physical show, slapstick, light combat, pratfalls and all, and Gonzales not only seems to enjoy it, he’s good at it. But his real strength is audience involvement. He engages the audience naturally, handling outrageous incidents with comfort and respect. That’s unique and fun to watch, often raising the hilarity to new levels. But he’s a good comedic actor, as well. He played Francis and his twin brother, Paddy, Francis with an English accent and Paddy with an Irish accent, all with the change of a hat. I liked watching this story unfold, but I loved watching this man intermingle the script with absolutely hilarious improvisation and audience interaction.
Stanley Stubbers and Rachel Crabbe are the two Guvnors Francis worked for as their “man.” Each thought he was exclusive and he worked hard trying to keep his dual employment a secret. It gets hard to say much more about them without betraying secrets the audience slowly learns.
John-Michael Marrs played Stanley Stubbers. While Stubbers is a criminal, you could imagine him as a good guy who did wrong. Marrs had the look and feel of a British upper-crust aristocrat and he kept reminding me of those marvelous performances by Hugh Laurie as Prince George and Lieutenant George in the Blackadder series on PBS. His voice and accent said Parliament and his costume shouted Downing Street, but his apparent ignorance of all the obvious things happening around him was his main comedy. And Marrs played that for all it was worth.
Stubbers’ counterpart and Francis’ other employer, Rachel Crabbe, was played by Alexandra Lawrence. Crabbe openly played her recently-departed brother, the real Crabbe criminal, and that was what made this play a farce. Rachel was openly woman, slightly dressed as a man, and like so many Shakespeare sex-changing characters, Lawrence did nothing to hide the false character, yet, she fooled the other characters. Lawrence also got to play with Rachel’s subtext, which involved looking for a killer of her brother, who she was in love with. She played the comic side of this character at the same time she revealed a deeper, more emotional quest and insecurity with the whole plan to mimic her brother. When Lawrence and Marrs got into some combat situations, we also got to see her use her physical comedy. Lawrence and Marrs were great foils with each other and this made them likable.
There are several pairs of characters who are somehow linked, though not always naturally. Charlie “The Duck” Clench is another criminal boss, more like a Godfather. Sonny Franks played Charlie with this menacing touch of irony. Franks had a look that could come right out of Mafia stories, but his voice and comic timing was impeccable. Charlie has a daughter who might be a bit challenging for him as he tries to get her married off. This becomes a huge motivation for him, both trying to defend her honor and trying to get rid of her. Franks made this inner conflict really funny. Harry Dangle is the lawyer who both supports Charlie, so they are joined at the hip, and wants his own problem child son to marry Charlie’s daughter. Bradley Campbell gave this character a high-priced shyster quality to go with his own form of trying to protect his son from ridicule. The two men fight like cats and dogs throughout while obviously needing each other, but this raised the stakes and made the story even funnier.
Eric Jenkins played Lloyd Boateng, a low-level criminal in Charlie’s employ and a world-class chef who is cooking for Francis’ bosses. These Jamaican-accented actor added to the hilarity by jumping back and forth between these different characters, connected more by accent than anything. Dolly is secretary to Charlie, love interest to Francis, and crazy like a fox. Ashley Puckett Gonzales (married to Brian Gonzales) gives this hot-looking woman a quality of sexy and sleazy while also becoming critical to the story of Francis.
Jeff Colangelo played Alfie, an aged waiter in the restaurant who has a severe heart problem and an adjustable pacemaker. This man looked like the ugliest woman in the world with the help of his costume and makeup, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone so talented at physical comedy and so funny without saying anything. He did pratfalls, dying scenes, mechanical movements, jumped over and under furniture, bumped into doors – if you can get through his scenes and still watch the story not bursting in laughter, you’re better than me. Some around me choked from laughter.
The last pair was the cause for most of the conflict in this story. Pauline Clench, dumb blonde daughter of Charlie “The Duck,” was played by Allison Bret. And Alan Dangle, the actor-wannabe who puts new meaning into over-the-top acting was played by Mitchell Stephens. These two characters are in love and planning to marry, since her first fiancé, the dead crime boss, was, well, apparently dead. But somehow he magically appeared when Rachel showed up and let the games begin. Bret was the quintessential blonde and, though there were no blonde jokes, her actions created a constant blonde joke that drove all the characters nuts. And Stephens’ Alan Dangle was about the same with his drama-queen reaction to everything. You might suspect you could get tired of this storyline, but, no. It was really funny to the very last with both actors completely committed to their eccentricities.
All this space and I haven’t even gotten to the fantastic multi-role ensemble, including a totally surprise character you won’t see coming, and The Quid, the on-stage band who plays both 60’s music and bluegrass extremely well, with a bit of help from numerous cast members showing their own talents. It’s safe to say that there’s not one second of this show that lags or bogs down. Its high energy from the time the house opens through the final group singing at the end.
Terry Martin somehow controlled all this on and off-stage mayhem and made the production designs perfectly support this amazing cast. The design team was huge and they created a fantastic, comic, over-the-top version of London town in 1963. Chris Pickart’s set design made the stage a huge Union Jack with roll-on flats and drop-down backdrops that changed the set from a living room to an outside street café to places inside the hotel. The coloring was very bright and so 60’s. This was lit very brightly by Leann Burns in ways that enhanced the primary colors. Scott Guenther didn’t have to deal with actor mics, but the band was always-on and frequent musical interludes required several stand-up wireless mics. The sound was well-balanced and high-energy and the actors were always easy to understand.
Costumes were also high-energy, period perfect, and colorful in the extreme. Sylvia Fuhrken made each character look so independently unique and outlandish that the farcical comedy was reinforced through even the bits and pieces on costumes. Tish Mussey added to this mix a lot of properties that were just right for each actor, but made you wonder where she found the relics. That dining room serving cart and statue were perfect for all the antics that took place there.
Dialects were important, what with several areas of London, Ireland, France, and Jamaica being represented, and Sara Lovett did a marvelous job of getting the accents apparently right and mixing them up so there was always interesting sounds to hear. With Sonny Franks’ musical direction, Jeremy Dumont’s choreography, and Jeff Colangelo’s physical comedy choreography, all the action, music and talent displays made this a whole-body experience for cast and audience. Terry Martin’s design and direction team joined with his production team to create an outstanding theatrical experience and leave Water Tower Theatre with a lasting legacy.
I wish I could talk more about every actor and each production member, as they all did so much more than I can describe here. The best solution is to not miss One Man, Two Guvnors, it is a side splitting, fantastic show that goes on my list of favorites this year. But also to see our very own (if for a brief month) Brian Gonzales, one of DFW's most talented actors who has achieved success on Broadway and representing this incredible theater community. Welcome home Brian!
Water Tower Theatre. Addison Theatre and Conference Centre
15650 Addison Road, Addison, TX 75001
Plays through August 28th.
Wednesday -Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday-Saturday at 8:00 pm, and Saturday-Sunday at 2:00 pm. Check the website for exact dates. Ticket prices range from $22.00 - $40.00
For information and to purchase tickets, visit www.watertowertheatre.org or call the box office at 972-450-6232.