The Benny Hill Show has finally made it to Broadway, more or less.
One Man, Two Guvnors–a knockabout farce about a lovable schmo who ends up trying to please two bosses in various forms of hiding–is lowbrow, spirited, and fourth-wall breaking, filled with anachronisms, audience participation, and zany musical interludes.
It’s actually based not on Benny Hill, but on Carlos Goldoni‘s The Servant of Two Masters, which is a 1746 commedia dell’Arte play, though it’s more commedia dell’Farte, when you come down to it.
Yes, flatulence jokes are gleefully included in this update, set in a winkily zany 1963 Brighton, where vaudeville, apparently, never died.
The “servant” (James Corden) finds himself improbably working for both a woman dressed as her murdered twin brother and a vacuous ninny-slash-killer who happens to be the woman’s lover.
And it’s funny, especially in Act One, which lays out the absurdist scenario and daft characters, also introducing the Beatles-like band (the Craze) that delivers tunes between scenes, gradually getting joined by cast members playing everything from a xylophone to clown horns.
Corden is a dynamic riot, literally rolling across the stage like a thunderball at one point to get a laugh, in one of the season’s most energetic and deeply willing performances.
A dinner scene that involves Corden with slamming doors, a rickety old waiter (a gut-bustingly funny Tom Edden), the ninny (the terrifically droll Oliver Chris), and some deadpan planted person brought up from the audience evolves into a riotous romp that’s wonderfully excessive and excessively wonderful.
But Act Two is just plain silly, with less of Corden, practically no inter-audience shtick, and no breathtaking set piece to rival that feeding scene.
You wish they’d throw out the second half of the script and just keep rolling around and improvising.
Still, with its horseplay and wordplay, 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.