TWO BY TWO IN HAPPIER TIMES By Peter Filichia
Frankly, I’m glad that I saw it in its New Haven tryout and not in New
York when it became a disgrace.
Saturday night September 26, 1970 was the last performance of
TWO BY TWO at New Haven’s Shubert Theatre. My house seat was
next to Arthur Miller’s. He was undoubtedly there because Joan
Copeland, his sister (who was therefore also Marilyn Monroe’s EX-
sister-in-law) was in the show.
With no disrespect to Copeland, Miller was probably the only one who
came to see her. This was the new Richard Rodgers musical! And if
that weren’t enough, Danny Kaye was its star!
To mark the forty-eighth anniversary of the Nov. 10, 1970 Broadway
opening, I listened to BACKSTAGE AT “TWO BY TWO,” an LP of Lee
Jordan’s opening night interviews interspersed with some of the
show’s best songs.
First Jordan interviewed composer and producer Richard Rodgers.
“It attracted me many years ago when Clifford Odets wrote the
original play which was called THE FLOWERING PEACH,” Rodgers
said. “I don’t know anyone who saw that play who wasn’t in love with
it – and that included me and the people I’m associated with in this
“The idea was brought to me by Martin Charnin who’s the lyric writer.
I told him I thought it was a fine idea for a musical and he said ‘Well,
that’s nice, because I’ve written six lyrics and I want to leave them
with you — and if you like them I would like to do the lyrics and you
write the music and produce it.’
“It’s the story of Noah and the ark,” Rodgers explained. “It’s
essentially Noah’s difficulty with his family in getting the boys to help
build the ark. They don’t believe that God has told them there’s going to be a flood and they think he’s a crazy old man. He’s 600 years old, you know — and he likes the bottle, too. They don’t pay any attention
to him. Finally he convinces them that the world is going to be
destroyed and they have been chosen to be saved and they start to
build they ark – which they do. There’s the voyage on the ark and
the difficulties among the children and their wives and Noah’s wife.
And eventually they see the dove and land on Mount Ararat.”
Rodgers omitted a salient fact. In the final number, Noah stands up
to God and demands a sign He’ll never again destroy virtually all
mankind. God then delivers – what is it, Noah wonders before
repeating hesitantly what God tells him:
“A Rain. Bow?” Then Noah decides “That’s beautiful!”
And beautiful was the way Kaye delivered the line in New Haven.
The audience and I loved him that night – although probably not as
much as Kaye loved himself. In the program, Kaye’s bio was
inordinately long: fourteen solid inches over three pages.
In it, we learned that Kaye was “a loping walker, a chair sloucher, a
practically no-baggage traveler, a polo shirt and slacks devotee with
the added sartorial fillip of his arresting individually designed space
shoes worn with white socks which have become a beguiling
(I saw virtually all of the 123 episodes of THE DANNY KAYE SHOW
that CBS broadcasted in the ‘60s but I can’t say that I was ever
beguiled by his white socks.)
In his interview with Jordan, Kaye said “I’ve been asked a number of
times before. ‘Why are you coming back after twenty-nine years and
what made you decide to do a show after all this time?’ … ‘Why am I
taking on this enormous amount of work at all?’ Well, I suppose I
could make up fanciful stories on why I am back and make it a whole
psychological interdependent, emotion decision.
“Actually, it’s much simpler than that. I used to have a friend named
Moss Hart and early on in our relationship he said to me, ‘You know,
Danny, at given points in a man’s life he has to take his life by the
scruff of the neck and shake it up.’ And as I’ve gone along in my life
and my career, it has happened. There have been given periods in
my life when I haven’t worked for a year at a time or even longer — ”
(Now we’re coming down to brass tacks …)
“ — and I find that when I came back, I came back on a different
plateau. It was another facet that I wanted to explore, another area
that I possibly wanted to work in … In the last couple of years, it isn’t
as though I’ve been totally inactive –”
The key word is “totally.” Now we’re coming down to brassier tacks.
As William Goldman wrote in his landmark book THE SEASON, “They
really don’t come back to Broadway for any other reason” than they
can’t get work anywhere else.
“I guess I’ve done all one can do in my profession,” Kaye continued.
I’ve been in movies and I’ve been on the stage and been on
television and I’ve played in cafes and have conducted symphony
orchestras. And I think now that it was time to break the pattern and
explode, good, bad or indifferent.”
Explode he most certainly did — and to the bad. But that wouldn’t
happen for months yet. In New Haven I was indeed beguiled by Kaye
as I was by newcomer Walter Willison. Frankly, Kaye’s opening
number — “Everything That’s Gonna Be Has Been” – was a dull
disappointment; it would later be replaced by “Why Me?” a lovely
Rodgers waltz to add to his many ¾ achievements. “Put Him Away,”
the choral number that followed, was decent enough, but the show
came truly alive when Willison, playing Noah’s youngest son Japheth,
demanded of God that there must be “Something, Somewhere” that
He liked beyond Noah’s family.
As Willison received wildly enthusiastic applause and cheers that
hadn’t been given the first two numbers, I knew that Willison would have to be one of the many Tony nominations that the show would receive.
As it turned out, Willison would be the ONLY Tony nomination that
the show would receive. Martin Gottfried explained why in NOBODY’S
FOOL, his 1994 biography of Kaye.
On Feb. 5, 1971, Kaye tore some ligaments while dancing and
couldn’t continue that performance – or any other for two weeks.
Rodgers and bookwriter Peter Stone decided that Kaye could
continue if he used a wheelchair for the early scenes in which Noah
was 600 years old and then a crutch for the scenes after God had
youthened him to a “mere” ninety.
When Kaye returned, he ad-libbed upon his entrance “Well, I finally
showed up.” After the audience roared, Willison said that response
turned “a maniac loose.”
Kaye matched God’s deluge with a deluge of jokes, even to the point
of referencing NO, NO, NANETTE. (The musical was indeed old then,
but not old enough for Noah’s time.) “I’m glad you’re here,” he
started telling audiences “and I’m glad the authors aren’t.”
When interviewed by Variety, Kaye defended himself by saying “We
have been forced to turn it into an entertainment.”
That “entertainment” had Kaye unzipping Copeland’s dress. He would
use his crutch to hit Harry Goz, playing his oldest son, in the testicles
and demand that Goz say his next line in falsetto. And when he fell
and Willison caught him, Kaye actually blurted out “Let go of me you”
followed by an adjective and a noun that will never be confused with
(Come back, Zero Mostel! All is forgiven!)
Thank The Guy Who Gave Us That Rainbow that Kaye recorded the
original cast album when he was still on his best behavior and still
believed in what he was doing. It’s a marvelous disc.
Kaye is right (at last!) when actually stating during the title song “It’s
catchy, y’know?” “Something, Somewhere” is galvanizing, “Ninety
Again!” is a smart idea, “You” is endearing and “I Do Not Know a Day
I Did Not Love You” is what many consider to be Rodgers’ last
beautiful song. A young Madeline Kahn does a nice Joan Sutherland
spoof in “The Golden Ram” and Marilyn Cooper amuses in “As Far As
Kahn and Cooper two would later win Tonys. Considering the show
sported only eight performers, you don’t get many musicals in which
25% of the cast would win Tonys.
And if Danny Kaye had only given that New Haven performance for
the entire New York run, the percentage would have undoubtedly
been upped to 37.5%.
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday at
www.broadwayselect.com and each Friday at www.mtishows.com .
He can be heard most weeks of the year on