Review Roundup: ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS on Broadway - All the Reviews!
ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS, by Richard Bean, based on Carlo Goldoni's The Servant of Two Masters, with songs by Grant Olding, directed by Nicholas Hynter, began preview performances on Broadway at the Music Box Theatre on Friday, April 6, and opened tonight, April 18.
The cast, led by James Corden as Francis Henshall, features Oliver Chris as Stanley Stubbers, Jemima Rooper as Rachel Crabbe, Tom Edden as Alfie, Martyn Ellis as Harry Dangle, Trevor Laird as Lloyd Boateng, Claire Lams as Pauline Clench, Fred Ridgeway as Charlie Clench, Daniel Rigby as Alan Dangle and Suzie Toase as Dolly.
ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS tells the story of Francis Henshall ("ONE MAN"), always-famished and easily-confused, who agrees to work for a local gangster as well as a criminal in hiding (“TWO GUVNORS”). Henshall has to do everything in his power to keep his two guvnors from meeting. What did the critics think? Let's find out!
Ben Brantley, The New York Times: It’s a rich, slow-spreading smile, like butter melting in a skillet over a low flame. And whenever it creeps across James Corden’s face in the splendidly silly “One Man, Two Guvnors,” which opened on Wednesday night at the Music Box Theater, you know two things for sure: You’re in for trouble, and you’re already hooked. Struggle as you will, there ain’t nothing you can do about it. That smile captures the essence of “One Man, Two Guvnors,” Richard Bean’s inspired adaptation of an 18th-century Italian farce by Carlo Goldoni, directed by Nicholas Hytner. A runaway hit in London, where it originated at the National Theater, “One Man” is, like Mr. Corden’s grin, both satanic and seraphic, dirty-minded and utterly innocent. Letting loose and neutralizing all sorts of demons, it’s ideal escapism for anxious times.
Mark Kennedy, The Associated Press: Bean and director Sir Nicholas Hytner have made further tweaks to accommodate the unfamiliarity of most Americans with some British expressions. It’s been said our two countries are divided by a common language, but the joyous laughter emanating from this production could reunite them at last. Staged by Hytner with close attention to farcical nuance, the extremely accomplished original British cast animatedly sends up the politically incorrect, often-bawdy jokes and stereotypes of that bygone era, aided by frequent audience participation and interludes of peppy skiffle music.
David Sheward, Backstage: But the story is not really the main thing here. That would be Nicholas Hytner’s dazzling and delirious staging, which establishes the ingeniously absurd setups and then accelerates them, shifting into higher and higher comic gear. The Music Box management should be required to install restraints for the seats, as you’re likely to be falling out of yours from laughing so hard.
David Cote, Time Out: Hunger, like all urgent and uncontrollable bodily functions, is an eternal wellspring of humor. Think of Charlie Chaplin grimly carving up his boot in The Gold Rush, Mr. Creosote’s last supper and that old, reliable sight gag, the fellow desert-islander who morphs into a talking turkey leg. Tummy rumbles equal belly laughs, and both abound in the National Theatre’s gobsmackingly funny One Man, Two Guvnors. Driven in its first half by the peckish desperation of freelance flunky Francis Henshall (James Corden), this virtuoso banquet of slapstick farce and verbal jousting brings with it a shocking revelation: How starved we were for comedy.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: Few theatergoing experiences are as joyously liberating as being part of a packed house roaring with laughter at low comedy. That shouldn’t imply any lack of genuine wit in the broad farce and bawdy humor of One Man, Two Guvnors, Richard Bean’s gut-busting update of the Carlo Goldoni commedia dell’arte nugget, The Servant of Two Masters. Striking an ingenious balance between meticulous planning and what plays like anarchic spontaneity, Nicholas Hytner’s production has been a deserved success in London. With virtuoso ringmaster James Corden on hand to juggle the demands of dual employment while wrapping the audience around his pudgy finger, the show now looks set to slay Broadway, too.
Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly: The production is utterly, profoundly, ridiculously British in its high-low antics and wordplay. There's no need to brush up on Commedia dell'Arte, Christmas pantos, or music-hall ditties to enjoy One Man, Two Guvnors. You'll know smart hilarity when you're guffawing at it.
Matt Windman, AM New York: Although Nicholas Hytner's expertly staged production admittedly loses some steam during Act Two, it remains a riotous delight full of witty verbal wordplay and crude, often gross physical humor. Even the scene changes, during which a snazzy all-male band performs, are full of life.
Jonathan Mandell, The Faster Times: I can picture a lonely member of the audience finding “One Man, Two Guvnors” less funny than the people guffawing in the surrounding seats. Perhaps the English accents will present a barrier, or they will be put off by the show’s willingness to include jokes involving protected classes (the hard-of-hearing, gay people, supporters of Margaret Thatcher), or by the persistent silliness or mildly off-color air: A lawyer character works for the firm of Dangle, Berry and Bush. The most likely scenario is for a theatergoer to be disappointed because of the high expectations set by word of mouth, or reviewers like me, giving the impression that “One Man, Two Guvnors” is the funniest thing on earth.
Linda Winer, Newsday: There's the squeaky dry, silly-smart kind we know from Monty Python, Michael Frayn and Tom Stoppard. I love that kind. Then there is the slapstick, pants-dropping, music-hall, silly-dumb sort that traces its stock-character, low-comedy pedigree back to 16th century Italian commedia dell'arte, English pantomime and, clearly, Laurel (Brit) and Hardy (American). In this, I'm afraid you're on your own. "One Man, Two Guvnors" obviously does what it does deliriously well. More than many trustworthy Londoners declared this among the funniest evenings they've ever had in the theater. On the other hand, there are few experiences lonelier than sitting with a poker face in a hall of laughter.
Brendan Lemon, The Financial Times: London theatrical commentators have fretted that US audiences wouldn’t fully groove to the beat of the play’s British and early-Beatles-era references. But physical comedy, in which the evening abounds, tends to transcend cultural difference. Corden is an inspired clown, and as long as he – and Oliver Chris, as his tall, toffee-nosed guvnor, and Tom Edden, as an ancient waiter – are around the mirth is steady.
Howard Shaprio, The Philadelphia Inquirer: Corden is remarkable in the way he makes his character bamboozle the others and even the theatergoers, swept into the action in several ways that I won’t reveal, except to say that the pranks are cunning. I got the feeling as the show moved on that the audience believed we were no longer onlookers, but were conspiring with the actors to bring the whole thing off — a real feat for the cast and the production.
Michael Sommers, NJ Newsroom: Led by the roly-poly and irresistibly droll Corden – an ebullient performer clad in mismatched checks as the modern-day Harlequin figure –a skilled 16-member ensemble whips through a wacky progression of pratfalls, slapstick nonsense, cheeky doings and assorted other low-comedy capers. It’s all too ridiculous for words so let’s take a pass on detailing the madness that erupts constantly for more than two hours.
Michael Musto, The Village Voice: You wish they'd throw out the second half of the script and just keep rolling around and improvising. Still, Guvnors often has you hoarse from laughing, and allows you the rare chance to brag about seeing something extremely tony that also happens to be incredibly "Benny".
Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News: Can we keep James Corden in New York for good? The young British actor headlining the London import “One Man, Two Guvnors” at the Music Box is so mad talented, adorable and hilarious that you just want more of him. Hello, Actors Equity?
Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY Post: Pratfalls, spit takes, puns, improvisation, winking asides, slamming doors, clowning, audience participation, double entendres and triple takes: “One Man, Two Guvnors” leaves no comic stone unturned.
Terry Teachout, Wallstreet Journal: The only part of "One Man, Two Guvnors" that translates effortlessly into the universal language of lunacy is the last scene of the first act, a two-doors-and-one-staircase miniature farce adorned by the presence of Tom Edden, who plays an 87-year-old waiter of the utmost ineptitude. Since the program credits Cal McCrystal as the show's "physical comedy director," I assume that he is mainly responsible for the masterly staging of this bit, which reduced me to helpless howling. If you do see "One Man, Two Guvnors," be forewarned that it's downhill all the way after that.