Friday, April 27, 2012

LIZ SMITH: "One Man, Two Guvnors" ...

"One Man, Two Guvnors" — Great Show! ... One Fabulous Night Only — Kaye Ballard at Feinstein's ... and Yanna Avis — 21st Century Chanteuse.
by Liz Smith
Friday, April 27, 2012

“Cancelled! It’s cancelled!”

According to the writer Marie Brenner, this is the most welcome opening in the English language.

Every busy person can understand this idea. But I like even better, this one: “Would you like to go to the theater to see a big hit from London and I already have the tickets and will pick you up!”
Suzie Toase, Oliver Chris, James Corden, and Jemima Rooper in One Man, Two Guvnors. Photos: Joan Marcus.
Now, that’s irresistible. And this happened over last weekend when I managed to see the smash One Man, Two Guvnors and had about the best time of my life at the Music Box Theater.

When the Tonys are announced any minute, this English import by the genius of farce, director Nicholas Hytner, will be noodging and not-so-gently pushing and shoving other shows aside. (Thank god it’s not a musical. No, Broadway is suddenly awash in excellent, thoughtful plays and revivals of dramas.)
Trevor Laird, Oliver Chris, and Jemima Rooper.
THE TITLE, “One Man, etc…” seems unfortunate, but it could be called “Twerky” and I’d still have to totally recommend it. This work by Richard Bean is based on the old Servant of Two Masters, a hoary comedy of greed and gut-busting humor right out of Commedia dell’Arte. But don’t let that put you off; this is comedy for the ages and for everybody.

And I found a new guy to love, one James Corden, who is an award-winning actor and what he and his friends do onstage each performance is simply mind-bendingly funny, aided by a “physical comedy director” Cal McCrystal. (One of the actors, Tom Edden, who plays a waiter suffering from some kind of stroke, struggles up and down stairs with a big bowl of soup. One cannot do justice in mere words.)
Oliver Chris and Tom Edden.
Interaction with the audience seems to be a James Corden specialty. Probably partly staged, there are plenty of gifted amateurs at each performance and at the matinee I saw, these souls kept actor Corden struggling not to “break up” and go out of character in a most delightful manner.

Corden is a funny man in the manner of the late Red Skelton or Danny Kaye and would have put those genii Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel to shame. He has a ball onstage, yearning for fish’n’chips, fighting with himself, longing and leering after sex and double-dealing. The play is modernized in that it occurs just before the invention of the dreadful Internet. So that’s amusing.
Red Skelton. Danny Kaye.
Laurel and Hardy.
I keep reading rave after rave for The Book of Mormon and I liked that musical very much. But Mormon has a real point — that any religion consists of mysteries that are unrealistic and one may be just as good as another. (Gold tablets found by a man named Smith ... resurrection from the dead ... an onus on eating certain animals ... turning water and wine into blood and body ... believing in a vengeful God, etc.)

One Man, Two Guvnors has no such point to make. It’s just wiggy and total fun; in fact, the most fun I’ve had in the theater in years.

Of course, some people don’t like farce, so don’t go if you’re a grump!
THE OTHER day I talked with a handsome young actor from L.A. (he is Fran Kranz of Death of a Salesman) — well, I had to explain to Fran what a supper club was. He hadn’t heard of this Fifties era type place where artists used to go to sing and do comedy, with an after dinner audience that was dressed-up New York.

The classic skit performed by Mike Nichols & Elaine May on the Jack Paar show.
He knew that Mike Nichols, his director in Salesman, had become famous playing satirical comedy with Elaine May. But he hadn’t realized how — when they arrived in NYC from Chicago — they had made their names at the old Blue Angel, Reuben Bleu, Upstairs at the Downstairs, Bon Soir, etc.  

People back then liked dressing up at night, wearing neckties and cufflinks, chic gowns, then paying a fee to sit in a supper club for watered down drinks and entertainment after dinner.

I think Yanna Avis is reviving this amusement because the sultry beautiful chanteuse will come back with pizzazz when she opens at The Metropolitan Room, 34 W. 22 Street, on May 2, May 16th and May 30th. Call 212-206-0440 for reservations. 

Does this all seem old-fashioned to you? You prefer the downtown madness, the half dressed crowds, the tattoos, the bondage, the rock shock madness and the noise and clatter of it all?

Well, if everything old is new again I am going to opt for the real McCoy. Statuesque, 50’s glamour, husky voice, chic and as Yanna says, “Ah Paree!”
Yanna Avis: Mon Manège à Moi.
TO ADD to old-fashioned values – Feinstein’s at the Loews Regency will for one-night-only, on June 17th offer the musical comedy and TV star, Kaye Ballard.

Miss Ballard made “Lazy Afternoon” a hit in The Golden Apple, way back when. She starred in TV’s The Mothers-in-Law with Eve Arden and scored in Carnival and Top Banana. Marlon Brando called hers the loveliest voice ever recorded, on a par with Judy Garland, when she sang with the London Symphony.

So, it’s old-times night Sundays at Feinsteins beginning April 29th through July 29th. Call 212-339-4095 and they’ll give you their schedule because it’s darned sure you can’t read it, printed as it is, on dark red paper. Are people crazy? Don’t they want to make it easy for you to understand whatever they are advertising?
Live audio of Kaye Ballard performing the original production of The Golden Apple.

Contact Liz Smith here.

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