By D. A. Blackburn
Noah, it seemed, was doomed from the start. Not only had God charged him with building an ark, but his family was falling apart. And these were just the problems written into the script. In actuality, things WOULD get worse for Noah’s clan when the curtain went up on the Jewish Ensemble Theatre’s production of “Two by Two” on opening night.
The evening got off to an uncharacteristically rocky start, considering the consummate professionalism patrons have come to expect from the JET. As the curtain time drew near, and the house doors failed to open, storm clouds seemed to loom on the horizon. Much to her credit, artistic director Evelyn Orbach made no excuses for the trouble, announcing that technical problems in an earlier preview performance and union rest requirements had caused the 30-minute delay.
Sadly, when the curtain did come up around 9 p.m., the show seemed about 40 days and nights away from being ready. Technical issues continued to plague the show, dragging down a work with significant potential.
“Two by Two,” written by Peter Stone, Richard Rogers and Martin Charnin, is a light-hearted musical adaptation of the familiar biblical tale of Noah, with a unique twist: The production explores Noah’s domestic life with as much zeal as it does his faith. Some liberty is taken, but the script is essentially sound, and very funny.
But the JET’s production falls short of greatness for a variety of reasons – some easily fixed, others not. The show’s technical flaws – revolving mainly around video projections and amplification – could surely be vetted out. The video issues should be an easy fix, and will likely be better in future shows. The amplification problems may be a tougher nut to crack – they are more numerous, ranging from body microphones being easily visible and frequently bumped by performers, to inconsistent audio projection – but solving them will certainly elevate the quality of the production.
On opening night, the cast of “Two by Two” seemed to struggle a bit with the show’s music. They were not consistently on pitch, and given the solid musical pedigree of the performers, one could easily speculate that problems with the show’s audio made it hard for them to hear over the live accompaniment. Or, the problem could reasonably lie in the lack of down-time between back-to-back performances.
At the less-fixable end of the scale, sets by Xiapo Wang and puppets by Mary Copenhagen are cute, but substandard for the company. They would be a comfortable fit for an amateur production or a children’s show, but not for a theater that regularly dazzles audiences with big-budget, top-shelf designs.
With all that said, there are redeeming qualities in “Two by Two.” The cast has lots of charisma, and they seem to share a significant chemistry. On opening night, there were plenty of moments when their vocal talents were well showcased, and though the work is not a musical gem, its songs are catchy and light.
Moreover, Copenhagen’s costumes and Diane Ulseth’s properties suit the show perfectly. And Jim Davis’ sound design – a thundering voice of God and realistic animal sounds – is quite well executed.
If the JET can just work the bugs out of the show, they may yet have a hit on their hands. When it rains, it pours, but if the company can keep technical issues to a light drizzle, the charming cast of “Two by Two” might just provide a rainbow.
‘Two by Two’
The Jewish Ensemble Theatre, DeRoy Theatre at the Jewish Community Center, 6600 W. Maple Rd., West Bloomfield. Wed., Thu., Sat. & Sun through Jan. 11. Tickets: $33-$39. For information: 248-788-2900 or http://www.jettheatre.org