ONE MAN GUY: Dirty American Decade

BATS Theatre (Out-Of-Site) Cnr Cuba & Dixon, Wellington

11/06/2013 - 15/06/2013

Basement Theatre Studio, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

12/03/2013 - 16/03/2013

Production Details

A musical in one act featuring one performer and one guitar  

The day he heard ‘Ring Of Fire’ a Christchurch boy vowed he would one day write and sing songs for a living. And marry one of Johnny Cash’s daughters. 

Years later, headed for Nashville, Tennessee, he got lost on US Interstate 57. He wandered in the wilderness, from Illinois to North Carolina to Louisiana to Missouri to California, running up bar tabs and writing songs. For ten long, solitary years he suffered for his art. 

Now it’s your turn…

DIRTY AMERICAN DECADE is a travelogue in original song, a one-person comedy musical written and performed by Jon Pheloung. It is the unofficial sequel to his 1991 musical, ONE MAN GUY. 

The Basement Theatre – Studio
Tuesday March 12th – Saturday March 16th 2013

BATS Out Of Site
Tuesday 11 June – Saturday 15 June,2013.

The coolness of being a New Zealander in America

Review by Charlotte Simmonds 12th Jun 2013

Just making the twenty-three year deadline Jon Pheloung had set himself to write a follow-up show to his initial 1991 performance One Man Guy: No Subtitle, he now returns with One Man Guy: Dirty American Decade promising fourteen original songs and, in the press release, nothing but acoustic guitar but in the poster, a banjo! I don’t even know if any of that is true. The banjo certainly isn’t.

Being still in primary school when One Man Guy was first performed at BATS, I am unable to rate OMG:DAD as a sequel. Loudon Wainwright III is pinched for the title of the show and the lyrics “People will know when they see this show the kind of guy I am / They’ll understand what I stand for and what I just can’t stand” are amusingly apt for a solo autobiographical theatre piece. 

This is the story of a decade Pheloung spent in the States, trying and failing to come up with a cheap, money-making, chart-topping pop song after the magical formula of three minutes, three chords.

If you can imagine that following the split of Crowded House, Neil Finn went off to the States and did what Flight of the Conchords purportedly did in their TV series, he might have come back and made a show that sounded a lot like this. It’s Flight of the Conchords but the soul-searching, wistful tunes New Zealand was better at in the 90s in Finnish style (Finns from New Zealand not Finns from Finland) or perhaps in the vein of other singer-songwriters like James Wilkinson. Better at? No, times just change and we don’t write this kind of music anymore, we write other music instead, but sometimes when people talk about the 90s as if they part of history, a sudden shock jolts me as I realise they were twenty years ago already and I feel almost offended at the passing of time. Even “the early 2000s was a long time ago” says Pheloung, reminding us that people no longer burn demo CDs and shove them in the post, to say nothing of tapes. 

As he self-deprecatingly travels around the States, taking us through Missouri, Tennessee, New Orleans, Illinois and the Carolinas, and not in that order, it’s clear that Pheloung has been being a New Zealander in America since before being a New Zealander in America was cool, and although his jokes may be low-hanging fruit, he still makes me laugh and his commentary is not without warmth, intelligence and charm. However, he is clearly too smart to be nothing more than a failed musician and I suspect his time in America saw him doing quite different things that aren’t let on to in this show.  

After the Rothwellian sentiment of “Whatever we do, it’ll all end in tears,” Pheloung gives up his radio hit dream and returns home to an earthquake-struck Christchurch where he writes “everything will fall apart / except the human heart,” bringing to mind the old adage that when everything that can be shaken has been shaken, only what can’t be shaken will remain.

I secretly hope he will get the 12-string down off the back wall at some point but it seems to be merely part of the beautiful and immaculate stage dressing. Instead, and to my astonishment, he manages to get the entire audience gustily singing “three minute, three chord pop song, baby” at the end.


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America Calling

Review by Matt Baker 14th Mar 2013

22 years on, Jon Pheloung returns to perform the self-proclaimed sort of sequel to his one-man show, One Man Guy. This, of course, raises the question of what, if anything, has changed. Having not seen the original production, I couldn’t say, but there is certainly a distinct feeling of the show not only taking place, but having been manifested in a different decade.

Pheloung is inarguably a gifted musician. His practical skills are polished and he demonstrates his theoretical mastery of the craft with subtle yet distinct differences in each of his songs. Not one of them sounds the same, which, in addition to the clever and humorous lyrics, prevents the story from becoming stale, which it becomes increasingly in danger of as the show progresses. Pheloung also manages to find a variety of tonal qualities in his somewhat restricted vocal range. [More


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A fun journey

Review by Cherie Moore 13th Mar 2013

One Man Guy: Dirty American Decade is a one man musical that tells the story of ten years in America and the quest to become a songwriter. If you don’t like musicals, don’t be put off: this isn’t a jazz and Broadway belt type musical, it’s a travelogue told through acoustic song.

The voice-over welcome sets the tone for the show as it comes over the speakers at 6.30pm. “If you want to be singled out during the show, please leave your phone on.” The audience laughs and we are all aboard the One Man Guy express for the next hour. 

John Pheloung appears on stage with his guitar and sets the scene with his rendition of the song ‘One Man Guy’. John doesn’t appear as a character, but as himself. We who are watching appear not as an audience, but a group of friends to whom he will regale the details of his adventures, his hopes and his failures.

In order to indicate when in the decade we are, John has an easel with his ‘7 steps to becoming a songwriter’ on it, which he moves through as his journey progresses. This is a clear and effective convention that allows us to stay with him, and for him to display images to accompany some songs. A cartoon image of George Bush looms during the song ‘Hang Out Our Dirty Laundry’.

The show continues to explore political, social and personal issues. Johns songs are witty; the play on words in ‘I’m in Missouri’/’I’m in Misery’ is a crowd favourite. His rollicking number ‘New Orleans at Dawn’ has my toes tapping and a smile on my face. But it’s his song about the earthquake in his Christchurch home that is my personal favourite. The vulnerability and stillness John finds during ‘Everything Must Fall Apart’ is a lovely contrast to the funny self deprecating numbers up to this point.

Andrew Potvins’ lighting design must be commended as it seamlessly transports the audience between present time and John’s travels in the past, with simple, affective and atmospheric lighting states. The set is sparse and well utilised, but on this night the audience sitting stage right don’t get enough of John’s performance.

John has a great sense of ease on stage and he is incredibly likeable. I do find myself wishing his acting had the energy of his singing and his singing had the relaxation of his acting. While he really seems to come to life in the songs, he is a bit tense and I find it harder to connect with him during them. His chat is so natural there is never any barrier between him and the audience, but for me it occasionally lacks the energy for me to feel like what he’s saying really matters to him.

However, this is quite a different style of show, which is refreshing, and overall it really does work. By the final number we are all singing along and it’s been a fun journey with lots of great songs that are anything but three minute three chord pop song. 


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