James Corden makes a hysterical return to Broadway

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NEW YORK (AP) — A gentle warning to anyone planning to see James Corden's return to Broadway: Get to his show on time or risk being part of it.

"Someone came in late yesterday — like about 15 minutes late — and that's fine, you just carry on. But he came in late and he was moving bags and switching seats and just stood up," recalls the English actor from his dressing room at The Music Box theater.

"I just stopped my speech and said, 'Are you all right? Are you all settled now? Can I get you anything — a drink, something to eat, a WATCH?' It was great," Corden says. "I just referred to him throughout the show."

Audience-participation — whether agreed to or not — is a big feature in Corden's deliriously funny "One Man, Two Guvnors," which arrives on Broadway after hit runs at the National Theatre and the West End.

A slapstick farce about a simpleminded guy who juggles errands for two underworld bosses in the English seaside town of Brighton in the 1960s, the comedy is a whirlwind of ribald humor, racing around, pratfalls, eating inappropriate things and slamming doors.

"Certainly, physically, it's the hardest thing I've ever done. My character's onstage for just two minutes and I have to throw myself backwards over a couch. It's full-on," says Corden, 33.

The play is an adaptation by Richard Bean of "The Servant of Two Masters," an 18th century farce by Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni. Corden, who first made his name on stage in "The History Boys," now gets to play a complete fool — one so effervescent that the action spills out into the seats.

Built into the script are comedy bits that employ plants in the audience and also purely improvisational moments when actual audience members are hauled up on stage. There are also pockets when Corden can just riff on whatever he likes.

"I'm the only person who can say I've never done the same show twice," he says. "Every night, there are elements of this show that are completely unique to that night and that night only. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be at the center of those moments."

Much has happened to Corden since he was last on a New York stage as the tubby Timms in "The History Boys." Corden co-wrote the hit comedy series "Gavin & Stacey" for BBC, became a father, wrote the memoir "May I Have Your Attention, Please?" and became a lot less tubby, dropping 70 pounds. Returning to New York has been a dream.

"My career has taken turns which I've only ever dreamt of. I've been so blessed to have so many different things. But there's a big part of me that has felt like everything I've done has tried to be a quest to try to come back and work here again," he says, swigging coconut water. "We've got five months to go and I'm already dreading leaving."

Nicholas Hytner, director of the National Theatre since 2003 and who directed Corden in "The History Boys" and "One Man, Two Guvnors," says that the actor is unlike many British comics who are cruel and have contempt for people. "James is affectionate and genial — that communicates," says Hytner.

"There is such a depth of talent when it comes to James, of inventiveness, of quick wit," he adds. "There is nothing you can throw at him that he doesn't make hay with. Nothing puts him off his stride."

He's not just being kind: Audiences in London have been known to pelt Corden with pork pies during the show.

While the show is funny in its own right, watching Corden encounter something without the script has to be one of the sheer joys on Broadway this season. His improv skills are mighty.

Once in London, with former Prime Minister Gordon Brown in the audience, a door handle kept coming off in one scene in which his character is trying to serve a meal to each of his bosses without the other one knowing. Working doors are critical to the success of the moment.

Corden apologized to the audience — who still were convinced the event was scripted — and then swiped a drill from a worker and tried to fix the problem himself. "For about 4 minutes, 1,600 people just watched me drill a door. Now obviously because it's me, I drilled it incredibly badly so it lasted about three more door slams before it came off again," he says.

Then a real maintenance worker in overalls showed up and got a huge cheer. As he completed the repairs, Corden began an impromptu question-and-answer session with the audience until the door was fixed. There were cheers all round.

"It was probably one of our best shows," he says. "Most shows, if something goes wrong, it would be a disaster. For me, it's an absolute opportunity."

For all his skills, Corden considers himself less a comedian and more an actor who does comedy. He cites Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robert Downey Jr. and Ryan Gosling as dramatic actors he admires who can bust out with hysterical turns. He laughs that the grass is always greener on the other side of the spectrum.

"So now here I am in a comedy and all I think is, 'God, I wish people knew how dramatic I am.' Such is the life of an actor, really. You long for one thing and as soon as you get it, you hope for something else."

After the play ends its Broadway run, Corden has plans: He will marry his fiancee, former TV producer Julia Carey, write a film with "Gavin & Stacey" co-writer Ruth Jones ("We have an idea. Time will tell if it's an awful one or not") and begin shooting "The Wrong Mans," a thriller comedy series he's co-writing with Matthew Baynton which he describes as "24" — if "24" was a sitcom starring a pair of regular guys thrust into world-saving situations.

"No one looks cool all the time," he says and then laughs.

He says he is relishing his life right now, especially the joy he gets from his 1-year-old son, Max. Playing with him stops him from becoming a self-obsessed actor type and keeps him humble.

"You're not a man until you've had your own child's poo under your fingernails and you've only realized after you've shook somebody's hand at work. That's a moment only a father understands."

Then he looks down at his hands and looks panicked: "I need to go to the bathroom now."

___

Online: http://onemantwoguvnorsbroadway.com

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