Author: Becca Vaclavik

If You Like Sketch Comedy and Rock ‘n’ Roll, ‘One Man, Two Guvs’ is For You

The plot of the comedy “One Man, Two Guvnors” is a bit convoluted.

A down-on-his-luck Brit named Francis goes on the hunt for a new job and winds up with two. His first “guvnor” is a mobster named Roscoe. Only Roscoe is dead; the aforementioned guvnor is actually Roscoe’s twin sister Rachel wearing a disguise. Francis’ second boss is a man named Stanley, who happens to be on the run for killing Roscoe. If that’s not enough of a tangle, Stanley is also Rachel’s boyfriend. Of course he is; this is comedy after all.

With its farcical premise, lovers at odds, and twins in disguise, the 2011 West End and Broadway sensation plays out like classical theatre. And that’s because it is. “One Man, Two Guvnors” is an adaptation of the 1700s commedia dell’arte play “Servant of Two Masters.”

But this version has something the other doesn’t: a skiffle band.

Skiffle is a style of folk music with its roots in jazz and bluegrass. It was highly popular in the UK in the 50s. Notably, skiffle was an important cornerstone of the British Invasion, as many now-infamous rock bands like The Beatles and the Stones started their careers playing this genre of music first. This cultural moment sets the backdrop for Richard Bean’s adaptation, which takes place in Brighton in the 60s.

“The scenes of the show are broken up by musical interludes performed by a skiffle band, but throughout the course of the show, the band starts turning into an electrified rock band, one instrument at a time,” says CSF Producing Artistic Director Tim Orr, who will direct.

“The band is onstage the whole show, and they are very much a part of the show. There are even surprise cameo appearances of characters in the play soloing and playing with the band.”

Casting was a fun puzzle this season, Orr notes, because CSF needed to put together a roster of comedic clowns with serious music chops who also would be capable of performing the Shakespearean pathos required for “The Winter’s Tale,” which largely features the same actors.

“In a lot of ways, the play reminds me of an episode of Saturday Night Live. There are sketches, one after another, but there’s also a band that breaks open the wall that sometimes exists between performers and audience. We all know that we are in this theatre together, enjoying this together. There is a lot of direct-address comedy in the show, as well as audience participation. It’s incredibly zany.”

If you’ve ever noted the sometimes delighted, sometimes mortified audience members who find themselves thrust into the bright lights of the SNL opening monologue because a cast member has been placed as a plant in the audience for the scene, you already have a sense of what you can expect from your date with the Festival this season. In fact, on our call, Orr gives a vague, mischievous warning to those who have purchased tickets in the front row. (My seats aren’t located in that area, but good luck to those whose tickets are!)

It’s all part of what he loves about live performance, what he’s worked to infuse into the very core of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in his years at its helm.

“What really excites me is when a classic text from antiquity is brought into today and is completely reimagined. The very same story that nobody has seen in 100 years or maybe just has never seen in this community is reinvented and put back on the stage.

“Athletic energy, audience surprises, live music. That’s what we enjoy doing, and that’s what we do best.”

One Man, Two Guvnors” opens indoors July 23 in the newly renovated Roe Green Theatre.