This week has revealed two very exciting occasions for both local and national theater:
Firstly, on the national scale, James Corden, the original Francis Henshall in One Man, Two Guvnors on the London and Broadway stages, has been announced to host this year’s 70th annual Tony Awards in June. Yay!
Secondly, our own One Man, Two Guvnors, enters its closing weekend after a successful run on the G.K. Hardt Stage.
These coinciding tidbits of news are both an occasion for celebration and reflection.
First, let’s reflect. The London and Broadway versions of One Man, Two Guvnors brought immediate popularity. The Guardian gave it 5 stars and heralded as “One of the funniest productions in the National’s history.”
Our own production, the North Bay premiere of One Man, Two Guvnors also received rave reviews locally and from the entire bay area theater circle.
David Templeton of the North Bay Bohemian called our production, “the funniest play the company has presented since its black box staging of the similarly over-the-top The 39 Steps. Featuring a truly masterful performance by 6th Street’s Artistic Director Craig Miller.”
6th Street’s One Man, Two Guvnors has also been listed as a Theatre Bay Area “Recommended Production” as well as a “Must Go See” Production by the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Buzz-Wham!
This is quite an accomplishment for such a challenging show!
As artistic director and our very own Francis Henshall, Craig Miller recently reiterated to me, “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard!” This is putting it lightly. One Man, Two Guvnors proved to be a monster of a show for the playhouse.
Corden himself has attested to one of the challenges that comes with this type of comedy. When asked if there was any part to this role that was so difficult that he was tempted to give it up he immediately stressed the physical comedy, which, if you have seen the show, know what I am talking about. He says: “My knees do! Five minutes before the show starts it’s like you’re looking at a hill, thinking, ‘I’ve got to run up this really fast.’ The minute you set off, though, it’s never tiring. It’s never anything other than the best fun I’ve ever had at work.” He also includes: “The guy’s on stage two minutes, and he falls over a chair, do you know what I mean?”
I spoke to Craig about his experience playing Francis, a role that requires immense bouts of physical comedy and improvisation, which proves strenuous on the brain and the body. The following is an abridged interview with our very own Minder, not exactly a Swiss watch, but our loveable clown nonetheless, Francis Henshall aka Craig Miller:
What has been the most rewarding part of playing Francis and what has been the most challenging?
I do have to say that by far and away the most rewarding part of playing Francis Henshall in our production of One Man, Two Guvnors here at 6th Street Playhouse has been the opportunity to be in a role that has the responsibility and joy to interact with the audience. I love the moments in the show when I get to look directly into the audience’s eyes and pull them into the action, as if they were a third major character in the play.
A close second in terms of my enjoyment, but also the most challenging aspect in portraying this character would be the amazing amount of physical comedy I am required to do! Clowning and my training in Commedia Del’ Arte are tools that I don’t often get to exercise in my theatrical toolbox, and I’m so excited to have the opportunity to do the majority of the physical comedy in the show. It is grueling and often times dangerous work, but when done right and safe, and the audience enjoys what you are doing – the mental preparation and physical sacrifice is worth it.
Do you have any sort of routine to prepare you before each show?
My preparation for Francis actually starts at my house, because I like to take a shower and brush my teeth right before I leave to come to the theater. Something about being clean; it’s physically almost like starting with a blank canvas, or a blank slate. It’s also a really good idea, because I sweat profusely throughout the entire show and I don’t want to smell like a horse while I’m acting next to my fellow cast members on stage. While I’m still at the house, I like to put on the soundtrack from the Broadway version and listen through some of the songs, which if you listen closely to the lyrics, have a lot to do with what has either just happened in the scene previous, or has everything to do with what’s about to happen in the next scene. It’s a nice abstract way for me to get in touch with the journey that I’m about to take once I get to the theater.
Once I arrive at the theater, the most important thing for me to do is to check in with all of my fellow cast members and crewmembers and say hello. This goes a long way to setting the tone for the rest of the evening. These are my comrades, my best friends, and the people that I will rely on for the rest of the evening to be my protector and also to protect. It is very much a family vibe in the cast and crew for this show, and it is very important to recognize and check in with the people who are just as responsible as I am for the success of the show every single evening. Some companies (like this one) like to do a formal full company warm-up, which I think creates a beautiful sense of ensemble and connection between the players. We are lead every single evening in an ensemble warm up by Larry Williams. It’s probably the thing I look forward to the most every night before I settle in to get into my character and into my costume.
After that, it’s taking a lot of deep breaths, finding my Zen place, listening to the tempo that’s happening on stage prior to my entrance, and most importantly listening for the energy that the audience is already sending back towards the stage before I step onto it.
How has James Corden inspired you?
For this role I truly did not want to be influenced by what James Corden had done. The only clip I have seen of James, and what everyone else in the country has probably seen, is this brilliant snippet in the show where Francis gets into the argument with himself, at the Tony awards two years ago. It was inspiration enough! He is truly a brilliant performer, and I am thrilled and honored to have the chance to share a role with him.
What is your favorite line?
I think my favorite line in the show is when the character Dolly asks Francis if he prefers eating, or making love, and his response, after a beat of serious weighing out of the philosophical conundrum, is: “That’s a tough one, isn’t it?”
It is, Francis, it really is.
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