“Danny’s Ark Leaky Vessel”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Apr. 6, 1971

By: George Anderson

NEW YORK – One of the people closely associated with the musical “Two by Two” is reported to have said off the record, “We made a fundamental mistake with this show. We should have made Noah into Danny Kaye, instead of expecting Danny Kaye to play Noah.”

On the other hand, a lot of theater-goers and critics felt Kaye did a pretty good job of playing Noah in Richard Rodgers’ musical production of “The Flowering Peach” by Clifford Odets. They were furious that he did not even get a nomination for a Tony.

But whatever Kaye was when the show opened, he is clearly not Noah now.

I saw a performance at the Imperial two nights after the Tonys, and the effect was dismaying.

The gift comedian is simply not playing the role any longer, and the show has disintegrated to a degree that is sad to see on the Broadway stage.

Of course, it is well-publicized that Kaye has returned to the role in a wheelchair with his leg in a cast following an accident on stage. His return while still in pain is credited with keeping “Two by Two” alive.

It is alive, however, only in the most generous sense. The original concept of the show has been buried.

The wheelchair and the cast are minor distractions, as far as the show is concerned. What kills it is Kaye’s absolute refusal to stay in character.

He jokes with the audience, using “ad libs” already overly familiar to those who read the theatrical columns, and he horses around with the other actors unzipping one’s costume, chasing several others in his wheelchair and hitting another in the groin with his crutch, a bit of business which is milked for nearly five minutes.

There’s a great deal of “breaking up,” in the obviously premeditated manner of the Red Skelton TV show.

Worst of all, much of the audience loves it, lending support to the view cited in the first paragraph of this column.

But if Danny Kaye fans don’t mind such a shambles, those of us who want to see Broadway professionalism can only be disappointed.

While I doubt that it was ever a world-beater, “Two by Two” has moments which indicate that it might once have been a pleasantly entertaining show.

Rodgers’ songs prove he has not lost his gift for writing long, simple melodic lines of great beauty, and Peter Stone’s book deals with its over-exposed material in some unexpected ways, not the least of which is making God the heavy. It is difficult not to sympathize with Noah’s rebellious son, Japheth, when he asks God to take another look at His world to see if He can’t find something somewhere that He likes.

Walter Willison is good in this role, as is Joan Copeland as Noah’s wife Esther, who dies in the show. (Rare is the Rodgers musical without a death.)

Best of all is director Joe Layton’s use of slide projection to solve many of the staging problems.

But, right now “Two by Two” is neither a Danny Kaye show nor a musical about Noah.

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