Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Baby, He Can Drive My Car: James Corden Plays Carpool Karaoke.

James Corden, currently playing a wily insurance investigator as part of the big-name cast of Ocean’s Eight, is nothing if not versatile. On the British stage and on Broadway, he took on a key part in Alan Bennett’s comic drama, The History Boys, and then reprised his role in the film version. I saw him starring on Broadway in an outrageous farce, One Man, Two Guvnors, based on a piece of Commedia dell’arte tomfoolery by 18th century Italian author Carlo Goldoni. As a harried servant struggling to juggle the demands of two very different bosses, Corden was so outrageously endearing that I wasn’t surprised to see him walking off with the Tony award for lead actor in a play.

Beyond his dramatic and comic chops, Cordon is known as a clever writer and an able producer. And did I mention he can sing? He was well cast as the amiable but troubled Baker in the 2014 film version of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods. And since 2015, as host of TV’s The Late Late Show, he has introduced the world to the Carpool Karaoke segments that regularly rack up millions of views on YouTube. The concept is simple: Corden appears behind the wheel of a car or van on a city street., welcoming a famous pop culture figure who just happens to show up. He flicks on the car radio, and then he and his guest happily burst into song. With Adele in the passenger seat he tooled around London, racking up 135 million views and becoming in the process the biggest viral sensation of 2016. I’m a fan of the segment in which Corden pulled up in front of the White House, expecting a formal tour, and “discovered” that Michelle Obama was volunteering to be his personal guide. The two of them harmonized on Beyoncé’s “Put a Ring on It,” after which Missy Elliott popped up in the back seat to join in a spirited rendition of “This is For My Girls.” A good time was had by all.

And fans of Broadway musicals can’t beat the segment in which Corden and Lin Manuel Miranda pull out all the stops on the opening number from Hamilton. Wouldn’t you know it – they just happen to find Audra MacDonald, Modern Family’s Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and 30 Rock’s Jane Krakowski strolling down Broadway. Musical theatre veterans all, they climb aboard and launch into an hysterically over-wrought version of “One Day More” from Les Miz. What makes segments like this one truly sing is the enthusiasm of Corden and his guests, along with an appearance of spontaneity (yes, I’m sure it’s all carefully planned, but still!) that’s truly refreshing.

It’s long been true that new pop culture heroes are made on radio and TV. I remember standing in my mother’s kitchen in the early Sixties, listening to Allan Sherman sing “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah,” and recognizing that a star had been born. Somehow, back in the day, we all seemed to be listening to the same radio stations, and watching the same TV shows. When Elvis Presley—and later the Beatles—appeared on TV’s Ed Sullivan Show, all of America was apparently watching. Today, though, the Internet has brought us a new wrinkle. I don’t know how big James Corden’s Late Late Show audience might be, but YouTube has significantly expanded his fan base. Five days ago, the show posted his Carpool Karaoke tour of Liverpool’s Penny Lane and environs with the still adorable Paul McCartney. It has since been seen by 17.5 million viewers, and the number of  happy fans keeps rising.

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