Addison — When Brian Gonzales headed out to New York for a callback as James Corden’s understudy in One Man, Two Guvnors, his wife, fellow actor Ashley Puckett Gonzales called out, “I’m pregnant, I hope you get it!”
This news, while joyful, was tinged with more than just happiness. After losing their first son, Gideon, to a rare blood-clotting disorder after his birth in 2010, the second pregnancy resurrected very real grief and fear for the couple. Gonzales, of course, landed the role in the Broadway hit, which earned Corden a Tony award in 2012. He’s now the host of CBS’ Late Late Show with James Corden.
Gonzales now plays Babkak in Disney’s Aladdin on Broadway (interesting, Aladdin also features another North Texan, Major Attaway, who is a standby for Genie, Babkak and Sultan). Gonzales also appeared on Broadway in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and in the national tour of Shrek the Musical.
“I spent a lot of time [in the play] with Gideon on my shoulders. I was very anti-social. I didn’t get to experience the joy of Francis the way I can now. It is such a joy to come to Dallas to play this role again,” says Gonzales.
A healthy pregnancy can be stressful in and of itself, but a pregnancy on the heels of the death of a child adds a layer of worry most couple don’t usually have to navigate. “We very nearly lost Ashley when we lost Gideon,” Gonzales explains. As a result, she spent most of the second pregnancy at home in Dallas under doctor’s orders. She never got to see her husband go on for Corden. This time will be quite different.
Four years later, the married couple will take the stage together this week at WaterTower Theatre in Addison; Brian in the lead as Francis and Ashley as his love interest, Dolly. It’s more than just an opportunity to revisit the play for Gonzales, it’s a chance to see the play in a way he couldn’t before. Coming home to Dallas for the Gonzales family means time together as a family with three-year-old Simon, and time with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends. It’s also a time to experience what Gonzales calls the “joy and positivity” of his character Francis that wasn’t possible before.
The regional premiere of One Man, Two Guvnors, is a coming home for Gonzales, but a departure for Artistic Director, Terry Martin, who worked hard to get the rights to produce the play in Texas. Martin announced recently that after 17 years at the helm, he would leave WaterTower to take the position as Head of Fine Arts at the Greenhill School in Addison. He assumed that position on July 1. Martin directed this play as a guest director. One Man, Two Guvnors is a good old-fashioned farce, wildly physical, and full of live music, set in 1963 England. The script is an adaptation of Carlos Goldoni's 18th century Servant of Two Masters. It was a hit in London and on Broadway and introduced many to the now frequently viral late night talk show host—and recent Tony Awards host—Corden.
The play begins previews Friday, Aug. 5 at WaterTower Theatre in Addison, opens Monday, Aug. 8 and continues through Aug. 28. Gonzales spoke to TheaterJones about managing grief, coming home to Texas, and the joy in rediscovering Francis.
TheaterJones: How does it feel to make this role your own?
Brian Gonzales: I was fortunate to step in for James [Corden] twice. When I got the role as understudy I was told I’d never go on, that he never goes out. But he had a new baby at the time and I got lucky and went on twice. They were great about it, too, in letting me put my own spin on it. The important thing was keeping up the positivity of this character, Francis. As long as I stuck to that spirit I could work within that and make it mine. But now, it’s a totally different thing. A new type of audience- a Dallas audience. A new cast with different senses of humor. In that way I am re-familiarizing myself with the show and trying lots of new things.
How is a Dallas audience different in regard to this play?
New York is a little more permissive in the comedy they tolerate. It can be a little “bluer” in New York. Dallas just doesn’t need that line crossed as much. I hesitate to say that, even. It’s just a difference in personality.
What makes a difference going from a Broadway show to a regional one?
Honestly, good theater is good theater. The differences are really all physical. A different, smaller space, lends itself to more intimacy. The sound is different, the budget is different, but it’s not at all a difference in quality.
You and your wife Ashley star in this together. Is this your first time acting together?
We haven’t acted together in six years. When Terry contacted me about trying to get this show at WaterTower it was something I really wanted to do. He asked if Ashley would be interested and I was like, “Oh yeah!” This show is going to be a blast together. I’m excited for her to do this role. It’s a really meaty one and she’s so funny.
You have a three year-old. How do you make this work when you’re both actors?
We knew this was going to be our life going into it. We both have to be flexible at the drop of a hat. Sometimes that means one of us had plans for an evening, and then one of us gets a call back. So plans change. We both agree to that and make peace with it. Right now, Ashley is home with Simon more than I am. And I’m jealous of that. Unfortunately it means she isn’t working as much, but I know she wouldn’t give up the time she has with him right now for anything.
Your first son, Gideon, passed away after birth. Can you talk about how that has changed you as a family and as actors?
The fact that he died will never be ok, but you will be ok. He would have been five this year. And sometimes we feel that very strongly. We say we’re having a “Gideon day.” Ashley was determined that something good would come from Gideon, and so we started a charity to help other artists in need, because we had been through it. Sometimes it’s setting up meal deliveries, or raising some funds to help with all the things that come along with these hard times. We wanted to help people with life. To be as effective in someone else’s life as Gideon was in ours.
How is this experience being in Texas, revisiting a role that happened during such an emotional time of your lives?
It’s such a wonderful win-win. Disney was so generous to excuse me from Aladdin to come do this. I am taking a break from a play I truly love to do another show I love. It’s a break from a wonderful thing, but it also means I am going from a very busy work schedule to a much lighter one. And that is great for all of us. Our dog has a yard to play in! And Simon gets time with all the grandparents and gets to play in a house rather than an apartment. I really retreated during my time doing this play on Broadway. I was anti-social, I had the grief of Gideon on my shoulders. It was a hard time. And to do this show again and revisit the joy and spirit of Francis without all that hanging over me, it’s a gift. I’m so truly happy to be doing it.