Monday, May 3, 2021

549. TWO BY TWO. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975.

Danny Kaye.
TWO BY TWO [Musical/Bible/Family/Jews/Period/Religion] B: Peter Stone; M: Richard Rodgers; LY: Martin Charnin; SC: Clifford Odets’s play, The Flowering Peach; D: Joe Layton; S: David Hays; C: Fred Voelpel; L: John Gleason; P: Richard Rodgers; T: Imperial Theatre; 11/10/70-9/11/71 (351)

Tricia O'Neil, Danny Kaye, Walter Willison.

One of several early1970s shows based on Biblical themes, Two by Two failed to please most critics. John Lahr went so far as to complain that, “with its ponderous moralizing, stale jokes, and tawdry lyrics [the show] is one of the saddest evenings I have ever spent in the theatre.”

Marilyn Cooper, Harry Goz, Michael Karm.

The musical was an adaptation of a 1954 Clifford Odets comedy about Noah (Danny Kaye) and his wife and children, seen in colloquial terms as a conventional Jewish family. It was thought lacking in wit, old-fashioned in style, stiffly written and staged, and musically bland. Iconic composer Richard Rodgers was assailed for a “lifeless, sporadic” score, in the words of Martin Gottfried, although Walter Kerr professed to find the songs appropriate and original, even selecting five songs "as among the best Rodgers had ever written! The score included “I Do Not Know A Day I Didn’t Love You,” “Why Me?,” “The Gitka’s Song,” “Something, Somewhere,” “You Have Got to Have a Rudder on the Ark,” “An Old Man,” “The Golden Ram,” “Hey, Girlie,” and “The Covenant,” among others.

Danny Kaye, Harry Goz, Madeline Kahn.

The chief draw, beyond Rodgers’s involvement, was the irrepressibly dynamic Danny Kaye—returning to Broadway after a decades-long stay in Hollywood—as the patriarch played by Yiddish theatre star Menasha Skulnik in the original play. Kaye received raves from most reviewers. “The man’s energy is amazing,” wrote Clive Barnes. “He sings, he dances, on one occasion he even piercingly whistles. . . .” Gottfried was one of the few who deplored the star’s performance.

Danny Kaye, Harry Goz, Joan Copeland.

The book concerns the 600-year-old Noah’s disappointment in being able to share his religious devotion with his wife, Esther (Joan Copeland), sons Japheth (Walter Willison), Shem (Harry Goz), and Ham (Michael Karm), and daughters-in-law, Leah (Marilyn Cooper), Rachel (Tricia O’Neil), and Goldie (Madeleine Kahn). They even mock his wish to build an ark to save them from the coming flood. Noah manages nonetheless to build the ark and fill it with all the world’s animals. When the deluge arrives, Noah’s piety and gratitude for God’s magnanimity grows exponentially.

Michael Karm, Tricia O'Neill, Danny Kaye.

Kaye tore a ligament during a show on February 5, 1971, and was out for two weeks. He returned on February 18, in a wheelchair, his leg in a cast. In subsequent performances he dropped the veneer of professional discipline and cut up outrageously, eliciting a slew of letters to the Times complaining of his attempts to break up the other actors as he careened around in his chair, poking at them with his crutches.

Readers of this blog who may be interested in my Theatre's Leiter Side review collections (one with a memoir), covering almost every show of 2012-2014, will find them at by clicking here. 

Next up: Two If By Sea.