“Two by Two,” a silly but tuneful take on the biblical tale of Noah and the ark, opened on Broadway to mixed reviews in 1970, lasted for 10 months, then drifted into what theater historians call “neglected” status. The show had great pedigree: The librettist was the revered Peter Stone (“1776,” “Woman of the Year”) and Martin Charnin (“Annie”) was the lyricist, partnering with the iconic composer Richard Rodgers (900 songs, with 43 Broadway musicals on his resume). In addition, the story was based on “The Flowering Peach,” the last and uncharacteristic play by the once left-leaning Clifford Odets. Can’t miss, you would think.
There’s more. The zaniest of zanies, Danny Kaye, was cast as Noah and romped and goofed his way nightly until a broken foot nearly ended his run. Kaye insisted on staying and began to change sequence, scenes and songs, a wild man, poking lewdly with a crutch at the female cast and ending the night with “Thank you for coming. I’m glad the authors didn’t.” Rodgers wasn’t amused, but Kaye’s shtick gave life to the show for a while.
The Lancaster Opera House has revived “Two by Two” and in the hands (and voices) of David Bondrow and a likable ensemble, the show is full of fun and foolishness until it goes serious and sad in its late minutes, sending the audience home slightly deflated. Director Kevin Leary’s program notes suggest remembering dire, life and culture-changing themes, the “cataclysmic ordeal” at the heart of God’s directive to the loyal Noah, now a sort of seagoing Tevye. “Faith, belief and Higher Power” are on the loose here, say the notes. Well, OK. But, “Two by Two” succeeds by taking a much lighter look at it all.
It’s Noah’s 600th birthday. The old man is grousing a bit – “Not one card,” he moans – he’s arthritic and in need of a drink when the heavens part and thunder crashes: God-speak.
God is ticked and he’s decided to end civilization by flood. Noah, his wife (the no-nonsense and wise Esther), his sons, their wives and a collection of all animal life (one male, one female) are to be the only survivors. God is starting over.
Noah, a man of great faith, nevertheless has pause: “Why me?” he sings. Noah’s family quickly decides that Noah has lost it. “Put him away,” they warble until Esther intervenes. Soon, Noah is changed back to a younger man. “Ninety again!” he rejoices, bounding about, an ark-building dynamo. Bondrow, dominating this enjoyable little parable, really takes over here and never looks back. He’s quick with a barb, a double-take, a one-lining tour de force that falters only on occasion.
The score – almost 20 tunes – may not be American Songbook quality but it’s listenable and playful with one or two superfluous ditties. The title tune and “When It Dries” are very nicely done, and speaking of neglect, the big ballad here, “I Do Not Know a Day I Did Not Love You,” is rarely heard these days, but it remains telling and tender.
Director Leary has the luxury of the ebullient Bondrow, but also along are solid Tim Goehrig, reliables Robert Ernie Insana, John Kaczorowski and Marisa Caruso, plus delightfully talented newcomers Aubrey Warner, Adelina Feldman-Schultz and the wonderful Denise Maffitt, as Esther, schooled and perfect for this piece, one that doesn’t force giggles or linger on sentiment; good decisions by director Leary.
“Two by Two” has some technical challenges; sets, lights and sound are up to them.
A 13-piece, out-of-view orchestra led by musical director Fran Landis is stellar.