It’s the theatrical weekend New Orleans audiences have been waiting to see.
And I am not talking about “The Phantom of The Opera” (a decent traveling Broadway production, to be sure).
Two of the season’s strongest offerings have hit the stage simultaneously in Kenner and The French Quarter, and each features one of the two best performances of the year.
‘One Man Two Guvnors’
How to describe the aftermath of being hit by haymaker?
That question will vex anyone attempting to summarize Chris Marroy as the lead in The Theatres at Rivertown’s production of Richard Bean’s “One Man Two Guvnors.”
It’s impossible for words to fully capture the young actor’s dynamic, sidesplitting blast as the personal valet Francis Henshall who attempts to serve two masters in The British Swinging 60s.
Yes, there is a clever story, based on Carlo Goldoni’s 18th Century “Servant of Two Masters,” about separated lovers, deceased gangsters, twisted innkeepers, supercilious attorneys and confused identities.
But ultimately the evening becomes a platform for an actor that every New Orleanian who cares about theater needs to see.
Whether engaged in extended fisticuffs with himself, channeling the ghost of Jackie Gleason or charming the pants off the audience by direct address, Marroy gives a performance that is, to put it quite simply, the finest of the year.
I’m not given to hyperbole. He is that good.
And here is the grooviest part: it isn’t just Marroy that’s terrific.
“Guvnors” rocks with its own pop band playing throughout and visually snaps with the always ingenious set designer David Raphel and costumer Cecile Casey Covert collaborating to create a hip time.
Bean’s Tony nominated script joyfully fuses slapstick and ferocious wit, Ricky Graham’s direction is the most assured I have ever seen it, and the supporting players are very much the lead’s equals both in technique and lunacy.
Under Graham’s precise, farcical guidance, Marroy stars in an ensemble of winning turns ranging from very good to outright inspired.
P.J. McKinnie’s pompous thespian fiancé, Gary Rucker’s dashing deviant of a romantic twit and Lara Grice as Marroy’s bawdy love interest come within inches of matching their twisted colleague with inspired insanity.
If I had more space, the work of actors Michael P. Sullivan, James Howard Wright, Shelley Johnson Rucker, Matt Reed, Erin Cesna, Logan Faust, Kyle Daigrepont and Joshua Talley would merit their own paragraphs.
They’ll have to settle for being in the show of year.
‘Peter and The Starcatcher’
Le Petit Theatre Du Vieux Carre’s production of “Peter and The Starcatcher” seems to have an internal glow. You can almost smell the sawdust on The Star Stuff.
An origin story for Peter Pan, Rick Elice’s adaptation of Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s novel reminds viewers that great theatrical events need not have actual collapsing chandeliers to inspire awe and wonder beyond their footlights.
Executed like a magic trick by director Beau Bratcher, The Tony and Obie Award-winning play celebrates old-fashioned stagecraft and the imaginative powers of little children everywhere.
And while its enthusiasm causes it to get a little sloppy at times, it should charm anyone who has ever been interested in not growing up.
And that’s where Bratcher and his lead Ashley Santos come into the picture.
Rather than simply replicate the original New York production with its use of ropes, the young director picks another antiquated theatrical convention and employs a series of rolling platforms to harkens back to a time when the expression “trodding the boards” meant just that.
Caster wheeled set pieces become ship decks, shorelines, and dense jungles for Santos to lead a cast of 12 in creating a world of pirates, high adventure and bedtime stories.
Bratcher and his expert design team of costumer Laura Sirkin Brown, lighting maestro Joan Long, and the unbelievably busy David Raphel construct a world that creaks like an aging pirate ship and flickers as if by gaslight. Like “Guvnors,” they’ve created a complete world that sets up its rules early and sticks with them to the finish.
But all of it would simply be directorial virtuoso were it not for the sensitive storytelling of Santos. Masterfully playing both narrator and teenage girl, her performance as the plucky heroine who protects Stardust is honest and heartbreaking to the last.
Part of the fun contained in “Starcatcher” is watching its creators set the wheels into motion giving The Boy Who Could Fly a backstory.
All the elements of J.M. Barrie’s beloved story are there. Alex Martinez Wallace and Clint Johnson, as the pirate Black Stache and his bumbling sidekick, will hook you into the tale, Raphel’s design includes room for a ticking reptile, and even though there’s not a single wire to be found, Nicholas Steven’s Peter receives a lift by play’s end.
You know those moments are coming. The delight arrives in how they are handled. After stumbling in the dark for over a year, The Little Theater seems to have found its light.
Jim Fitzmorris writes about theatre. He can be reached at email@example.com.