Two’s Company

Twos-CompanyOriginal Broadway Cast, 1952 (RCA/Masterworks Broadway) 3 Stars (3 / 5) Bette Davis always claimed that she knew exactly what she was doing when she decided to star in this revue. “Just turn me loose on Broadway as a musical comedy girl,” she sings (?) here. Two’s Company certainly had some prime talent behind it: composer Vernon Duke, lyricists Ogden Nash and Sammy Cahn, choreographer Jerome Robbins, and a strong cast that included David Burns, Ellen Hanley, and Nora Kaye. But the critics were bewildered, and the star’s illness forced the show to close after three sold-out months on Broadway. Without this particular star, Two’s Company would have been just another late-entry collection of topical skits and so-so songs; with her, it has retained a status perched somewhere between legendary disaster and unparalleled curiosity. The cast album certainly makes for interesting listening. The material is adequate, the supporting cast and presentation are strong, and the opening “Theatre Is a Lady” is a worthy anthem. Onstage, Davis’s authority may have masked some of her musical deficiencies, but on the recording, she sounds like a drag impersonator in a piano bar just before last call. Her pitch is uniquely her own, and her phrasing is a harbinger of her odd line readings in her later films. In a hillbilly number, “Purple Rose,” she’s game but uneasy and not very funny, yet she’s touching in the torchy “Just Like a Man.” Since her only subsequent musical was the ill-fated, unrecorded Miss Moffatt, the Two’s Company album is a fascinating footnote to a long, magnificently uneven career. — Richard Barrios