By: Richard Bean, with songs by Grant Olding
Produced by: Palo Alto Players
Directed by: Patrick Klein
Physical comedy direction by: Carla Pantoja
Music direction by: Lauren Bevilacqua
Featuring: Doug Santana, Ray D'Ambrosio, Troy Johnson, Fred Pitts, Katie O'Bryon Champlin, Brad Satterwhite, Betsy Kruse Craig, Michelle Skinner, Drew Benjamin Jones, Bryan Moriarty, Chris Mahle
When: June 15-30, 2019
Where: Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
Tickets: $25-$52. Visit paplayers.org, or call 650-329-0891
Joanne Englehardt's review of this show in The Daily News.
Here’s a clue about the knock-down-drag-out comedy of “One Man, Two Guvnors,” which Palo Alto Players is staging: In addition to having a director, it has a “physical comedy” director.
The show has always had a second director for that purpose, ever since its premiere in London in 2011.
It’s the show that made a star of James Corden, who was completely hilarious as the easily confused Francis Henshall. When the show came to Broadway in 2012, Corden won a Tony for the role.
“It’s two hours of over-the-top, non-stop, side-splitting fun and laughter,” according to Palo Alto Players Artistic Director Patrick Klein, who is directing this production, which opened on June 1, 2019. Certified stage combat instructor Carla Pantoja is the physical comedy director.
And the show needs it — in addition to Francis slapping himself silly and falling backward over a chair, an old man is smacked with a cricket bat, and other hijinks fill the stage, all the while accompanied by the music of an on-stage band. And members of the cast.
“I’ve been learning the xylophone,” said Doug Santana, an extremely talented fellow who is playing Francis in this production.
“Pat asked me to be involved as soon as they decided to do it,” Santana said during a recent phone call. “I told him I would love to.”
Klein and his wife, Izetta, and Santana and his wife, Elizabeth, have known each other for many years, starting when three of them were students at San Jose State, and continuing through a period of all living together in New York.
Now Elizabeth Santana is managing director at Palo Alto Players, and the teamwork of her and Klein has turned the Players into an outstanding theater company. Not every production has arrived fully polished and firing on all cylinders, but many of them have been excellent. “Tarzan.” “Peter Pan.” “Million Dollar Quartet.” “The Graduate.” “Chicago” (with Elizabeth Santana fabulous as Roxie Hart). “The Addams Family.” “Eurydice.”
That “Addams Family,” in 2015, had Doug Santana as Gomez, and Betsy Kruse Craig as Morticia. They were great together, helped along by Kruse Craig, who is a statuesque 6-foot-1, towering over Santana, who is 5-foot-9.
“Being a character actor, that has been an asset for me,” Santana said. “Average height and stocky build.”
Santana has done plenty of theater, including national tours of “Bye Bye Birdy” and “Lyle, Lyle Crocodile.” He and Elizabeth worked on a cruise ship together, performing music every night.
At home in the Bay Area, where he was raised, Santana said he is lucky if he gets to do one show a year. For instance, when Foothill Music Theatre lost its Pseudolus about three weeks before it was supposed to open, and director Milissa Carey called and asked him to take the role. He did.
He’s also been Edna Turnblad in “Hairspray” and played a number of other roles, including performing in “Guys and Dolls” at CMT Marquee in San Jose, with his wife Elizabeth, in 2018.
The relative paucity of his performing roles has to do with his day job — he teaches advanced acting and improv sketch comedy for the Archbishop Mitty Performing Arts department in San Jose. And, he has directed more than 50 productions at theaters up and down the Peninsula.
Theater is in the family — Maddie, the 7-year-old daughter of the Santanas — was just cast as the Centipede in “James and the Giant Peach” for CMT San Jose. It’s a key role, with a very involved emotional arc. “She is jumping for joy and we are so proud of her,” Santana said on Facebook.
Santana said he is having a lot of fun in rehearsal for “One Man, Two Guvnors.” The show is a madcap farce. The character he plays, Francis, accidentally finds himself in two jobs at the same time, working for a gangster and for an upper class twit. The two men shouldn’t find out he is working for both. Among other complications, the gangster is actually dead, and his twin sister is pretending to be him. Her boyfriend is the twit, who is the one who killed her brother. There are many other complications, including Francis pursuing his two passions: Dolly, a sexy bookkeeper (played by Kruse Craig), and food.
When Santana was interviewed, the cast had just done its first off-book run through. (When the scripts are put aside, and everybody performs from memory.)
“It’s been so similar, in terms of experience, to being in ‘Addams Family.,’” said Santana. “Everybody is just fantastic. It’s a great cast to collaborate with. It’s in the spirit of Commedia dell’arte.”
In this case, that means that the play, with a script by Richard Bean, based on the 1743 comedy “Servant of Two Masters,” by Carlo Goldoni, has lots of room for improvisation and surprises.
“There is a script,” said Santana, but also “the script has moments that describe what should have been, but kind of leave it to you. There is a bit in Act I that is described in the script, but it’s left to our own interpretation.
“I love doing shows like this. I love improv. We’re not going to change the dialogue, but we work with the actors to figure out what happened. This show is unique in allowing the improv.”
That requires a cast that is really comfortable and accomplished on stage, of course, and Klein has cast very well, with Bay Area standouts Ray D’Ambrosio, Troy Johnson, Fred Pitts, Katie O’Bryon Champlin, Kruse Craig, Brad Satterwhite, and several other excellent performers.
“We’ve work through lots of scenes together. There is great chemistry and great trust. It changes every day, and will until Pat (Klein) sets it. If you saw the show 12 times, it would never be the same.”
There is also audience participation, especially when “Francis needs help,” Santana said. “Whenever Francis gets in trouble, he turns to the audience for assistance. He gets confused very easily. Whatever hole he’s gotten in to, he needs help getting out of it. Sometimes the outcome is predetermined. Sometimes it depends on what they say.”
Taking place in Brighton in 1963, in British accents, the show is, according to Santana, “Monty Python meets Benny Hill meets the Beatles.”
And not to be missed.