Another season has opened at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis and they chose the rollicking comedy, “One Man, Two Guvnors,” that has astounded audiences on a national level and even locally for those of my friends and colleagues who have been lucky enough to see it in London or New York. With all that hype, perhaps that’s why I was slightly disappointed with the show but I must admit, they give us plenty to laugh about and the pacing keeps those laughs going through all two and a half hours. Lots of surprises (several you can see a mile off) and wonderful performances keep you entertained.
The show revolves around Francis Henshall- the man who tries to “double dip” by serving two employes thus riding the gravy train in two different directions- often at cross purposes. Raymond McAnally fits the bill perfectly. A portly yet agile performer, he has the comedic rubber face that matches the burlesque skills necessary to pull off an absurd yet polished performance. He and the rest of the cast had their timing a bit off on opening night at times but the humor shines through despite the occasional dropped or “stepped on” line or bit. That, or course, will right itself as the show continues. Luke Smith also does a nice turn as the overly dramatic suitor who everyone excuses as “oh, he’s just acting.”
A lot of English Music Hall humor abounds with great performances by the whole cast including Karis Danish, John Michalski, Ruth Pferdehirt, Jack Fellows, Mel Johnson, Jr., Anthony Cochrane and Keira Keeley. Aaron Orion Baker and Evan Zes provide a lot of the laughs as well as a couple of incompetent waiters. A fine group of supporting players kick in and the onstage (sometimes offstage band), humorously called “The WoolfPak, are terrific as they play a lively Beatles-like performance pre-curtain then continue to pop in and out- coming down the aisles or marching out the the orchestra pit. It’s really a lot of fun to watch and listen to them- almost as much fun as the show itself.
It’s all set in 1963 in Brighton, England and so the sound of the band and the fury on stage reflect a lot of the pop culture of that period. Playwright Richard Bean and composer Grant Olding have put together a solid show that works well on stage. Director Edward Stern has done another masterful job by keeping the controlled chaos just under control enough to make it enjoyable without letting it run away from the intent. There are basically two kinds of humor we have received from the British- the “Monty Python” and the “Benny Hill.” “One Man, Two Guvnors” is definitely from the Benny Hill branch of the tree. Not my favorite and I’m sure that had something to do with my slight disappointment with the show itself. Again, from all the hype I’d heard, I was expecting to be blown away but I was waiting for “Dead Parrot” and all I got were puns and sight gags. Also, I felt it brought back a lot of bad memories of some Dinner Theatre productions I’d see in the past (when you see it, you’ll understand why). But that’s okay- it’s all enjoyable, just not what I was hoping for.
Scott C. Neale has given us a great set to feast our eyes on that features a giant post card from Brighton as the backdrop. And the amazing sight gag that did entertain throughout the evening was the number of people who fell into or were pushed into the orchestra pit. Made you want to wander down to the stage after the performance to see what was down there that prevented a lot of injured actors. Kirk Bookman’s lighting design gives it that great Music Hall feel, Rusty Wandall’s sound design enhances the broad humor of the show and the costumes of David Kay Mickelsen continues the theme prevalent to the silliness of the evening.
It’s all a lot of fun and, despite my personal disappointments, it’s a great night for just getting away from it all and letting out a few rip-roaring laughs. “One Man, Two Guvnors” is a great way to open the new season on the Mainstage as it runs through october 5th. Give the Rep a call at 314-968-4925 or contact them at repstl.org for tickets or more information.