Johnson has been a ventriloquist for 30 years, and is most widely known for playing deranged Chuck (and Bob) on TV's "Soap," back in the day when multiple personality disorder was good for a laugh. In the intermissionless The Two and Only!, Johnson explores the history of ventriloquism and shares reflections about his career — from theme parks to concerts to TV to Broadway — and his inspirations, including the late vaudeville-era artist Arthur Sieving.
The Two and Only!, written and performed by Johnson, is at turns a standup routine, a showbiz memoir, a family-friendly entertainment and a touching ode to a form that seems to be in the shadows of contemporary American pop culture.
Words like dummy, puppet and doll are not embraced in the show. To Johnson and the audience, the characters we meet are living, breathing creatures.
The salty "Bob" from TV's "Soap" became a Broadway baby Sept. 19, with the first preview of Jay Johnson: The Two and Only! The bow, also marking Johnson's Broadway debut, follows a 2004 Off-Broadway run and recent regional engagements in Los Angeles and Boston.
Calling The Two and Only! a solo turn is misleading. Johnson, the producers say, "deconstructs and demonstrates his lifelong obsession" with a "cast" that includes Bob, Amigo, Darwin, Long John La Feat, Nethernore — the Bird of Death, Spaulding, Arthur Drew, Jackie and Ga Ga, and Squeaky.
According to production notes, "The ancient craft was discovered thousands of years ago and was used by early chieftains and tribesmen, who acted as mediums between men and supernatural forces. The case has also been made that diviners in many religions, including the Oracle of Delphi, were ventriloquists. With his dummy Bob, Jay Johnson follows in the footsteps of such performers as Jules Vernon, Fred Russell (and Coster Joe), The Great Lester (and Frank Byron, Jr.), Edgar Bergen (and Charlie McCarthy) and Paul Winchell, who have all helped to define ventriloquism as a bonafide modern art form."
The creative team also includes Beowulf Boritt (scenery), Clifton Taylor (lighting), David Gotwald (sound) and Michael Andreas (original music).
The producers are Roger Alan Gindi, Stewart F. Lane & Bonnie Comley, Dan Whitten, Herbert Goldsmith Productions, Ken Grossman, Bob & Rhonda Silver, Michael A. Jenkins/Dallas Summer Musicals, Inc. and WetRock Entertainment.
Jay Johnson: The Two and Only! plays Tuesday-Thursday at 7 PM, Friday at 8 PM, Saturday at 2 PM & 8 PM, Sunday at 1 PM & 5 PM.
Tickets are on sale via Telecharge.com and (212) 239-6200, and at the Helen Hayes Theatre box office on West 44th Street.
For more information, visit www.thetwoandonly.com.