Delaware Theatre Co.’s Bud Martin first saw “One Man, Two Guvnors” on Broadway a decade ago while it starred James Corden, now host of CBS’ “The Late, Late Show.”
“It was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen,” Martin said. “I walked out of the theater with my sides sore from laughing.”
Corden went on to win a Tony Award for his starring role.
Delighted by the clever staging and determined to one day direct it himself, Martin chose the play to officially end his decade at the helm of the riverfront theater.
“I thought I better do it now or I’m never going to be able to do it,” Martin said.
“One Man, Two Guvnors,” which started previews this week, officially opens Saturday night, with a special post-show champagne toast to Martin.
He is credited with lifting the theater out of financial doldrums and raising its regional profile, partly by bringing in musicals hoping to open on Broadway, such as “Diner,” “Because of Winn Dixie,” “Sign of The Times” and “Something Wicked This Way Comes.”
The theater also is running a campaign to honor Martin by trying to sell out every show of the run, which ends Feb. 19.
The farce is an updated take on a 1793 classic Italian comedy, “Servant of Two Masters.” (Some theatergoers may remember that play was produced in 2013 by the University of Delaware Resident Ensemble Players).
Richard Bean’s “One Man, Two Guvn0rs” updates the show to the 1960s British seaside. In it, a penniless Francis accepts jobs with two men to increase his chances of being fed and paid. He must keep them from meeting each other and complicating matters are an engagement party with a character masquerading as a sibling who is engaged to someone who doesn’t want to be.
‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ crew
The action involves swift entrances and exits up and down stairs and through slamming doors, audience participation and everything you’d associate with a comedy.
D.J. Gleason, who appeared as Eugene in last season’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” will star as Francis.
The comedy features 11 actors, five big set changes, complete with moving pieces on the ground and in the air, and a bigger tech and backstage crew than normal.
Many of the theater’s bigger shows such as “Diner” and “Winn Dixie” have relied on outside designers and builders. The theater’s staff handled it all for “One Man, Two Guvnors” under production manager Nathan Renner-Johnson.
Martin said he’s been surprised at the intricacies of actor movement required by the show.
“When I saw it, they made it look so fun and easy,” he said. “This has a lot more physical comedy than anything else I’ve done .. I mean, people falling down stairs, running into doors, falling over things, knife fights.”
So the first thing he did was hire movement specialist John V. Bellomo from West Chester University. Bellomo is an expert in commedia dell’arte, a form of Italian comedy that features stock characters and specific motivations such as food or love.
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The first scene that Martin and Bellomo staged when the cast first gathered at the theater was the most complicated — and perhaps funniest.
Among other things in the scene, as doors are opening and shutting, one guy gets hit in the face and falls down the steps while another knocks himself out opening a champagne bottle.
“They’re done slowly until people get really comfortable with it so that we make sure nobody gets hurt and then we can gradually pick up the pace,” Martin said. “We worked on that scene the first day so that we could work it every day. It’s all there for you if you can make the timing work.”
Fulfilling Martin’s worst fears, Wednesday night’s preview was canceled after Gleason fell during a scene Tuesday night. The theater wanted to let him rest, and the show is expected to preview again Thursday and Friday.
Martin officially turns the executive director reins over to Matt Silva in June, but has largely focused on his artistic director role this year.
He will remain a member of the theater’s board and may direct at the theater again, depending on the show and his schedule.
His wife, Kate, would like to travel.
“I’ve always said, ‘No, I’m too busy,’ ” Martin said. “So I want to make sure that I make that my priority and then fit a show in where I can.”
One of his priorities will be to go see his daughter and her family in California. He and Kate haven’t seen them in person since before the pandemic started because whenever they planned to travel, someone got sick.
He’ll also be weighing his options.
“I don’t really want to stop directing,” he said. “I just want to stop coming to work every day.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “One Man, Two Guvnors”
WHERE: Delaware Theatre Co., 200 Water St., Wilmington
WHEN: Now through Feb. 19
TICKETS: $29 to $65. By them here or call DTC box office at 302-594-1100
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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