The Flood might not seem like an apt subject for musical comedy, but long before such biblically themed musicals as “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “Jesus Christ, Superstar,” there was “Two by Two,” a 1970 musical about Noah starring Danny Kaye. Composed by Richard Rodgers with lyrics by Martin Charnin and a book by Peter Stone, it ran for almost a year on Broadway.
Now comes a rare staged reading of the show, directed by Charnin and starring Jason Alexander and Tovah Feldshuh. It runs next weekend for five performances only at the York Theater on the Upper East Side.
Based on “The Flowering Peach,” a play by Clifford Odets, “Two by Two” is the tale of a 600-year-old guy from the Bronx (Alexander) who finds himself magically transported back to biblical times and given a unique mission. As he and his ailing wife (Feldshuh) struggle to build the ark and gather up the animals, they are hampered by their three sons pairing off illicitly with each other’s wives and girlfriends. But they hold the family together long enough to set sail and see what God has in store.
The original production of “Two by Two” hit an iceberg three months into the run when Kaye broke his foot and appeared either on crutches or in a wheelchair at every performance. Kaye started ad-libbing lines, conversing with audience members and antagonizing the other actors. His vaudeville-style antics insured that it was his last Broadway show, and helped to relegate the musical to oblivion.
Three decades after the show’s premiere, Charnin and Stone, who had never lost faith in the musical’s potential, put on a revamped version at a theater in Crossville, Tenn. “We wanted to see if it was too Jewish to play in the Bible Belt,” Charnin told The Jewish Week. “But the audiences loved it! We realized that it was time to bring the show back to New York.”
While Alexander did a highly successful reading of the show in Los Angeles last year, playing opposite Faith Prince, Charnin agreed that the musical may have special resonance in New York, given that so many here are still coping with the aftermath of the flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy.
Then too, a musical that ends with a rainbow in the sky and the dawning of a new era reminds one that Charnin went immediately on from “Two by Two” to compose a musical about a plucky orphan who never loses her optimistic take on life. Did “Two by Two” inspire “Annie“? Charnin laughed at the thought. “It’s probably just a coincidence,” he said. “But who knows?”
“Two by Two” runs at the York Theatre, 619 Lexington Ave. Performances are Friday, Feb. 15 at 8, Saturday, Feb. 16 at 2:30 and 8, and Sunday, Feb. 17 at 2:30 and 7:30. For tickets, $39.50, call the box office at (212) 935-5820 or visit www. yorktheatre.org.