If you grew up in the 70s and 80s, ventriloquist Jay Johnson was a household name. Co-starring on the hit TV show “Soap” and appearing on countless others the likes of “The Love Boat,” “Gimme a Break!,” “The Facts of Life” and “Empty Nest,” Johnson, for the lack of a better term, was that generation’s Jeff Dunham.
The DVD version of his Tony Award winning show, “The Two and Only!,” filmed on September 15, 2012 in Thalian Hall in Wilmington, NC, is a perfect invitation into his comedic genius, a reminder that his star hasn’t faded at all.
In a way that is entertaining, educational and inspiring, Johnson shares his soul on stage. Starting with the origins of ventriloquism in a way that would make Billy Nye “The Science Guy” envious, Johnson eventually gets personal, sharing his experiences as a child in Lubbock, Texas, as well as his relationship with mentor Arthur Sieving. If you had any idea what this show was supposed to be by simply looking at the DVD case, you’re in for a wild ride. Emotional, sophisticated and eventually downright silly, Johnson covers a gamut of material and never forgets to touch your heart and tickle your funny bone.
Bryan W. Simon’s directing also brings out Johnson’s quirky and sincere style with shots that showcase his wide smile. At others, the shot selection adds some extra uniqueness. At one point in the show, Simon takes us the inside of one of Johnson’s doll’s cases. A rarely seen shot, it caps off an incredibly dramatic segment in a way that can only be compared to a cherry on top of a fudge sundae. Always in the right place at the right time, Simon’s work on this production is both well-executed and well-edited.
Away from the serious and touching moments, Johnson doesn’t forget to laugh. Using his wide variety of puppets and friends, Johnson gets a plethora of laughs. Although some characters (Amigo and Nethernore in particular) don’t resonate as well as others, Darwin, Bob and of course, Squeaky steal the show with Johnson’s signature comedy and add another layer to the show.
One part emotional one-man show, another part silly stand-up comedy, Johnson maintains a balancing act that a tight rope walker would be jealous of. For nearly two hours, you’ll often wonder which part is coming next, but you’ll never appreciate one more than the other. For that reason alone, Johnson’s “The Two and Only” is a production that grabs hold of your entire heart.
“The Two and Only” will be available on Pay Per View and Download to own August 1 and DVD December 16.