Sunday, July 21, 2019

44 (2019-2020): Review: TWO'S A CROWD (seen July 19, 2020)

“What Happens in Vegas”

Despite its title, Two’s a Crowd, a pleasantly mediocre, nearly two-hour, time-passer of a musical at 59E59, has four actors, two of them the leads, with five additional roles split between two supporting actors. One of the leads is played by the popular, still-adorable, and always welcome comedian, Rita Rudner, who also cowrote the book with her husband, Martin Bergman, the director. 

Robert Yacko, Rita Rudner. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
The music and lyrics are the work of Jason Feddy, who, for unexplained reasons, materializes to sing and play the guitar during the show’s interstices when the actors need a moment to change costumes. I guess you could think of him as something of a chorus, although his lyrics—while suitable enough for a stand-alone act—have little to do with the plot or characters. The songs sung by the latter are perhaps a bit more closely related to what’s going on but most could as easily be extracted and performed without any knowledge of the plot.

Then again, the score may easily be the best feature of this sappy, cliched, senior-citizen romcom, set in a Las Vegas hotel room (Rudner is a popular Vegas attraction and even has a theatre there bearing her name). Two’s a Crowd is a perfect vehicle for audiences veering from middle-age into their golden years, and tailor-made for the dinner theatre crowd (wherever that still exists).

It imagines a man and a woman, strangers, meeting cute when they find themselves sharing the same room because of a double booking error. He, Tom McManus (Robert Yacko), is hovering just below his sixth decade, she, Wendy Solomon, just above. As conventional in such situation comedies, you have to let the tired little zingers and fibs about their respective ages wash over you.
Rita Rudner. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Both are in Vegas for emotional rehab from personal losses, he—a retired electrical contractor—because of his beloved wife’s death, she because she found her husband cheating on her. His goal is to participate in a big poker tournament; she—a wedding planner—seems to have little else on her mind than to shop and play the slots. As per the formula, each has a completely different temperament, setting up the initial friction that makes it seem these two could never get together.

Tom’s nice, laid back, a go-with-the-flow guy, ready to accept life as it comes to him, and, although a college dropout, belatedly into the philosophy of Marcus Aurelius. Wendy’s rude, uptight, and so fearful of taking risks (she relies for information on the Travel Channel) that the first thing she does when she realizes she’ll have to spend the night with Tom—he on a foldup cot—in the same room is to Google him. The actors bring their natural charms to making their growing interest in one another (and their realization that first impressions aren’t always reliable) appear entertainingly inevitable. However, everything seems so carefully laid out that even the surprises are unsurprising.
Robert Yacko. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Among those would-be surprises are the occasional monologues spoken by Tom and Wendy directly to the audience. This breaking of the fourth wall somehow seems inorganic and unnecessary, as if it’s present only because Rudner and Bergman felt the need to flesh out Tom and Wendy’s roles with additional exposition.

Additional humor is provided by Brian Lohmann and Kelly Holden Bashar, the actors who play the other characters. Lohmann, in addition to a fast turn as “Man at Door," covers Joe, the fey room service waiter, for whom he dons a ridiculous red toupee; and Gus, Wendy’s unfaithful hubby, who shows up with flowers and, in a semifantasy sequence, uses a standing mic to plead for forgiveness in a rockabilly song, accompanied by Feddy.
Brian Lohmann, Jason Feddy. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Bashar first appears as Louise Zappia, VP of hotel operations, in a Louise Brooks-like helmet cut and black-rimmed glasses that make her resemble Times columnist Michelle Goldberg. She then becomes Lili, the friendly, Slavic-accented, blonde housekeeper, who initiates a promising relationship with Tom. (Question: must every wig be so obviously cheap-looking?)
Kelly Holden Bashar, Rita Rudner. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Tessa Ann Bookwater’s bright but unexceptional hotel room set (which she’s also lighted, with some awkwardly executed blackouts) is placed on a revolve—shifted by the cast members—on whose other side is a plain green wall fronted by a small table and two chairs. At stage right is a staircase with a white bannister leading to where the three musicians perch. When composer, musical director, and lead guitarist Feddy steps into the spotlight, he does so at the top of the stairs, which, of course, make absolutely no sense being in the room.
Robert Yacko, Rita Rudner. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Feddy, who happens to be the cantor/soloist at Temple Isaiah, Newport Beach, CA (who knew?), looks like Jerry Garcia and sounds like James Taylor. He’s an engaging presence and his music, almost all of which has a country sound, is actually quite sprightly and effective. On the other hand, Tom and Wendy are both from Cleveland, so why the music sounds like Nashville is a question for the rebbe.

Two’s a Crowd offers very little you haven’t seen before. It gets its occasional laughs, naturally, but one of the biggest comes (with strong applause!) when Tom uses the verb trump and Wendy says “Please don’t say Trump.”  Cheap joke, yes, but many of us need a public opportunity to let off anti-Trump steam, so it's at least excusable.

McManus may not be your ideal leading man but he performs with unassuming believability and, like Wendy, you find yourself appreciating his presence. Lohmann and Bashar are polished comic actors who play their sketch-like characters with the usual sketch-like shtick.
Rita Rudner. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
I’ve always found Rudner’s standup comedy very funny. Her natural humor, however, hasn’t translated well to this standard musical comedy, in which she plays a role that seems part her, part someone else. Rudner, whose open face, delicate features, and wide-open eyes suggest a grown-up Kewpie doll, balances her portrayal of Wendy with equal infusions of the standup playing to the audience and the actress playing to her partners. Very little comes off as spontaneous. When a song is in her register, she sings effectively, if not memorably; when it’s not, it deserves to stay in Vegas.

One of the brightest spots is the finale, when Tom, Lili, Gus, and Wendy, their lives now settled, reunite some time later. They sing one more song that we might presume is meant to sum up the show’s theme. Inspired by the thoughts of Marcus Aurelius, it’s called “Shit Happens.” Who can say no to that?

59E59 Theaters/Theater A
59 E. 59th St., NYC
Through August 25