Roush Review: James Corden's Stage Triumph in 'One Man, Two Guvnors'

One Man Two Guvnors James Corden
Review
Johan Persson/PBS

After years of "Carpool Karaoke" and "Crosswalk" musicals, hosting the Tonys and the Grammys to acclaim, the versatility of genial Late Late Show host James Corden is no longer a surprise.

But back in 2011, a superstar was born when he revealed himself to be a slapstick virtuoso in the side-splitting farce One Man, Two Govnors — first for London's National Theatre (filmed live and now making its U.S. broadcast debut on PBS' Great Performances), then on Broadway, where Corden won a 2012 Tony Award.

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The rebroadcast of the 2017 production, starring Zachary Levi, Laura Benanti, and Jane Krakowski, happily reminds us of its timeless appeal.

Running himself ragged as Francis, the hapless servant of two nincompoops who are unaware of the other, thus making his duties unduly messy and complicated, Corden dominates the stage with his tireless physical and verbal comedy. The audience revels in his witty interactions with the packed house— remember those? — and the roars are real for the show's most memorable routine, in which he fights himself, rolling across the stage and fatefully colliding with a garbage-can lid.

Highbrow it's not, but just try to contain the belly laughs when he's joined by the miraculous (and Tony-nominated) Tom Eden as a doddering ancient waiter. Though based on a play from the commedia dell'arte era, the rhythms are pure vaudeville, with corny jokes, hammy overacting and campy musical interludes.

One Man, Two Guvnors James Corden

Johan Persson/PBS

Early in the first act, when a character dismisses Frances as a clown, he responds forcefully: "Everyone in the circus loves a clown, so when you say the man is a clown, what you're actually saying is, 'I love you.' "

Point taken. The night I saw Two Guvnors live on Broadway is the night I (and everyone else in the theater) fell for James Corden.

One Man, Two Guvnors, Friday, November 6, 9/8c, PBS (check local listings at pbs.org)