Jay Johnson is famous for throwing his voice. In his 95-minute, one-person and multi-puppet Broadway show, Jay Johnson: The Two and Only, he displays a skill at switching, shading, varying, and coloring his vocal tones that’s as consummate as his gift for the physical interplay of puppet and man. He doesn’t stoop to cheap effects; his showy moments come from his sheer love of the art. Improbably for Broadway, Johnson’s show, co-directed by his co-writers Murphy Cross and Paul Kreppel, is really a lecture-demonstration , with enough personal history worked in for the evening to build to several genuinely touching moments, including Johnson’s tribute to his mentor, Art Sieving, and the tear-provoking scene when he has to put away Squeaky, the puppet Sieving carved for him, in order to take up his new job, on the TV sitcom Soap, with a more coarse-grained new puppet partner, Bob.
That people are audibly moved by Johnson and Squeaky’s farewell embrace tells you he’s a gifted actor: Who else could provoke tears by hugging a wooden object? The guy clearly loves his work and is thrilled to be show-and-telling you all about it. Whether that sincerity can constitute an evening in a Broadway house, at today’s prices, is another matter. Johnson throws his voice elegantly; what throws me, brutally, is the insanely escalated cost of New York theatergoing.