The 1970 musical is known to contain what's considered one of the great late-career Rodgers songs: "I Do Not Know a Day I Did Not Love You," preserved on the original cast album. But in its original run, there was turbulence backstage and onstage with star Danny Kaye, who didn't trust the material, stole focus or dictated changes based on ego or insecurity.
Subsequently, the musical about the Bible's Noah, his family and the flood lasted less than a year and fell into relative shadow. Although it later became available for licensing, and is produced in regional and amateur theatres, Two by Two didn't exactly take hold in the popular imagination.
The show's lyricist, Martin Charnin, told Playbill On-Line that in 2003, before librettist Peter Stone died, the writers decided "enough was enough": The time had come to bring sun to a show that had been stuck in the mud.
Charnin explained, "We wrote a wonderful, intelligent, funny, truthful musical that never really saw the light of day and had been stigmatized for so many years because of its reputation — by virtue of the fact that Danny Kaye had simply refused to play the part [as written]. It disappeared. The show just went away. It's occasionally done. And so Peter and I decided to go and re-do it, and take the shtick — all of the Danny Kaye-isms — out of it, which we did. We finished it about maybe two months before Peter died."
Before the untimely loss of Stone, who was considered a master among musical theatre librettists, the writers decided they were going to "try to get it on, bring it to fruition and get a revival of it." A deal is now in place, Charnin said, for a world premiere of the revised version to play the Cumberland Playhouse in Tennessee starting in October 2004.
"I'm going to direct it," said the veteran director and lyricist of Annie. "I'm going to restore a concept that I had that was originally negated by Danny [Kaye], which is that all the actors in the show, the eight actors, are all of different ethnicities; that Noah is the only old Jew in the piece, and that everybody else is of a different ethnic bent. That explains why after the flood we now have a 'rainbow coalition.'"
Charnin will have a four-week rehearsal period with a partial Equity company (with some non-Equity folk mixed in, per the playhouse contract). The director said he has room to revise and rehearse during the run, as well.
The small playhouse and relative anonymity are perfect for the development of this new Two by Two, he said. "A 300-seat theatre...is about all I need because all I want to deal with is text and score," Charnin said.
NETworks is interested in presenting a tour in 2004-05, "and, if God is good, bring it into New York in 2005," Charnin said.
One trunk song from the show will be added to the existing score. "It's a number for Ham, the brother lusting after Goldie in the second act. It's a song called 'Forty Nights,' which Dick and I wrote, which was performed once. Danny had to follow it and it got too many laughs. He said, 'I won't follow it on,' so it had to be cut."
Is the message here that text can survive personality?
"Yes," Charnin said, "text has to survive personality! It's a discovery people are making. I don't remember ever going to see a show only because of who was in it. You want to see something in the theatre because of the fact that it was a piece of theatre — a score you loved or knew about, or it had a story you wanted to hear told. The world has now become so personality-oriented that it's very, very difficult to get something on with nobody of any 'substance' or name recognition in it. Producers are relatively unwilling to take a shot and just put something on without a name — they can't bank it or capitalize. Putting the personality in...would be perfectly fine if they put the right person in all the time. But their track records are not exactly 100 percent."
Charnin begins casting Two by Two in New York City Jan. 28.
As for the tune, "I Do Not Know a Day I Did Not Love You," Charnin said, "Wonderful song! And nobody knows how gorgeous it is and how well it fits in the event. It's one of Dick's most exquisite melodies."
Two by Two is based on the Clifford Odets play, The Flowering Peach. Walter Willison was Tony Award nominated for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for playing Japheth. Madeline Kahn played Goldie and sparred with Kaye. Marilyn Cooper was Leah, Joan Copeland was Esther, Harry Goz was Shem, Michael Karm was Ham and Tricia O'Neil was Rachel.
Joe Layton conceived and directed the show, Richard Rodgers produced.