Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Comedy Strikes Back

A few days in New York (again) allowed me the chance to see a really fine comedy, One Man, Two Guv'nors, which was adapted (and updated) from the Carlo Goldoni 17th century Venetian original and presented on Broadway by a British company put together by the National Theatre. James Corden, who won a Tony this year for his performance, is the lead and he is a true natural clown, and excels (joined by an equally skilled cast) at perfectly-timed slapstick complete with pratfalls aplenty and true and seemingly ersatz audience involvement.

This was one of the absolutely joyous evenings in the theater--which happened to be the delightful Music Box on 45th Street, built by Irving Berlin for his musicals, then jointly owned by the Shuberts and him until the Shuberts' successors bought it from his estate. But I can't overemphasize the sheer delight of this show, which was playing to a packed house the night I took it in.  There seemed to be no dead time, either; everything clicks.

Next night found me at the 2nd Stage Theatre on 43rd just west of Eighth Avenue, seeing a new musical called Dogfight, apparently based on a 1991 movie about three new Marines in San Francisco the night before shipping out to Vietnam. The title refers to a bit of Marine ugliness that has each man try to find the ugliest date to win a contest.  This time, the lead picks up a nice waitress who finds out what the "party" is all about and calls them out about it. Then the Marine goes back to find her and make amends (no, this isn't a 12-step program). 

Doesn't sound like the most likely theme for a musical but the music, lyrics, and especially the choreography are excellent.  Joe Mantello, who starred in Angels in America and has become a well-regarded Broadway director, did a fine job putting the best style into action here. The youngish audience hooted and applauded--I'm getting used to this new Broadway behavior, and try to resist recalling (out loud, anyway) that getting audiences to react so formidably was much more daunting a prospect when I first went to see shows--and bravos were few and far between.

Yesterday's Times, however, must have taken some of the wind out of their sails. While praising Mantello's input and the deserving female lead, in particular, the writer pointed out some of the shortcomings in both the plot and the characterization. I felt sorry for the company because they seemed a spirited unit and I think the show could have made it.

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