It's 1960s England and skiffle music – a sort of American folk music played on the poorest of instruments (think washboards) – has been all the rage since being brought over in the 1940s and '50s. “Everybody and their mother played skiffle. There were estimated to be 20,000 to 50,000 skiffle bands playing in Britain,” says Gregg Coffin, musical director for the upcoming season and house opening production of One Man, Two Guvnors at the Alley Theatre.
Francis Henshall is a member of one of those bands and life is going right along until his band attends a Beatles concert. The next day he's fired and in his search for a new career path, he becomes the employee for two different criminals – one of the upper class variety and the other a gangster. He tries to keep each one from knowing he's working for the other. Based on Carlo Goldoni's 18th century comedy The Servant of Two Masters, there are disguises and thwarted relationships and a sense of energy as characters do the usual rushing about that a farce demands as Henshall tries to juggle his responsibilities.
“The play by Richard Bean does a kind of wonderful charting from that skiffle to what was going on with The Beatles,” Coffin says. “The music we play is very skiffle-oriented and then there's an intermission where we kind of electric up and play a different kind of tune.” The Alley Company is turning out in force ( Jeffrey Bean, James Black, Elizabeth Bunch, Paul Hope, Chris Hutchison, Melisssa Prichett, David Rainey, Jay Sullivan, Emily Trask and Todd Waite) for this one, accompanied by the four-man live band The Craze, assembled from local musicians Ryan Chavez, Aaron Echegaray, Chris Goodwin and Mike Whitebread just for this show and who play before and during the production. Stephen Epp, John Feltch, Elspeth Brodie, Joseph Palmore (Houston Theater Awards 2015 winner for Best Supporting Actor) and Trace Pool will be there as well.
“This is not a musical; no character description is furthered, no plot description is furthered. It is kind of like a music hall,” says Coffin, who is handling his fourth production of this show. Cast members will drop in and out of songs written by Gary Olding and Coffin insists that they all can sing “like songbirds.”
This will be the first time back in the main Hubbard Theatre at its Texas Avenue home after a year away at the University of Houston main campus while renovations were done. One Man, Two Guvnors opened at Britain's National Theatre in 2011 and moved to Broadway in 2012, winning a number of Critics Circle, Tony and Drama Desk Awards. Directed by Alley Artistic Director Gregory Boyd, it promises humor even Americans can understand. And don't forget the songbirds.
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Performances are scheduled for October 7 through November 1 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays; 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at the Alley Theatre, 615 Texas. For information, call 713-220-5700 or visit alleytheatre.org. $26 to $71.