Broadway’s newest star, Jay Johnson, is the talk of the town and in his one man show, The Two and Only. His 11 co-stars feature puppets, a vulture, a snake, a monkey, a nutcracker, a tennis ball, inanimate objects, and human caricatures, which Mr. Johnson brilliantly brings to life by giving them voice and personality.
Mr. Johnson, a man many regard as the world’s greatest living ventriloquist, is probably best known for his starring role as the schizophrenic Bob and Chuck in the cult 1970’s comedy classic TV series “Soap.” In his hilarious new show Johnson demonstrates his amazing art and why he deserves the vast accolades. His show is not exactly new since Mr. Johnson premiered a very similar much acclaimed show off Broadway at the Atlantic Theatre in 2004. He was scheduled to take up residency at the Helen Hayes Theatre last season, but was bumped due to the extended successful run of Bridge and Tunnel. Now finally here we can shout for joy! Johnson recounts a captivating tale as he chronicles his journey to Broadway that feels like destiny.
Beginning with a little history on ventriloquism, he quickly moves into the specifics of his own story and his infatuation with the craft. Mr. Johnson grew up in Texas, where at age 5, performing in a local show, he discovered the power of laughter while riding a stick pony across the stage. He became fascinated with ventriloquism when he picked up a Jerry Mahoney doll belonging to his cousin. A doll his cousin thought was broken since it was suppose to talk, but didn’t. When he was able to make the doll speak his cousin thought he had fixed it, and Johnson immediately had the family laughing.
Johnson is a regular guy with an engaging style that is easy to like. He details his early opportunities in Texas performing at local parties before turning professional as a teenager. He gained much experience working at theme parks in Texas and Georgia with Squeaky, his partner at the time, which he had created from his cousin’s doll, and together they did the same routine 918 times. The poignancy of his story is grounded in the relationships he carved out along the way often with his inanimate performing buddies, but especially with his mentor Arthur Sieving, a master ventriloquist.
At 17 he managed to contact Mr. Sieving, who was living in retirement with Harry O’Shea, his performing doll, and persuaded him to carve a doll for him. This would be the start of their lifelong friendship and a relationship that would have a profound impact on Johnson taking on the dynamics of a father/son mentorship that weaved a path through his tale resonating with some of the evening’s most moving moments. In his show, Johnson make a tennis ball speak, a monkey called Darwin curse and a bird named Nevermore had the audience howling.
Introducing him, Johnson said, “Don’t be shocked by the crowd.” “I’m shocked you could draw a crowd,” he retorted. He even brings life to a face he has just drawn, makes it sound as if someone is speaking from within a closed suitcase, makes voices sound as if they are far away or coming from the next room and he does it all without moving his lips. The performance will astound you for he is a talented actor and story teller as well.
Much wisdom has gone into shaping the evening that has been simply directed by Murphy Cross and Paul Keppel, who together with Johnson conceived the show. Although the evening is a laugh out loud riot, there are many affecting moments as well – a perfect place to spend time with the children in your life and the child in you. Johnson elevates the ancient craft to an art form weaving a magic spell that will touch your heart and lift your spirit.
gordin & christiano
Originally Published in Dan's Papers
Jay Johnson: The Two and Only! opened at the Helen Hayes Theatre, 240 West 44th Street, on Thursday September 28, 2006. For tickets call 212-239-6200, or Telecharge , or at the box office.