What happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas. For better or for worse, sometimes its bright lights, hijinks, and debauchery make appearances on, say, New York’s off-Broadway circuit. Two’s a Crowd is the new, original musical comedy making its NYC debut at 59E59 Theaters. Much like Vegas itself, it’s a lively, fun escape from the “ordinary life” (as it’s put it one song) outside its borders. It even takes its moments to upend the cliched, predictable rom-com world it itself occupies. And yet, it was created with loving adherence to the recipe for nearly every Hallmark movie ever made.
Start with two singles – in this case, Wendy (Rita Rudner) and Tom (Robert Yacko). Add a pinch of sorrow and/or longing to each of them. Wendy gets the longing, now coping with aging alone after her husband cheats on her and leaves her without validation. Tom gets the sorrow, as a recent widower living from poker tournament to poker tournament. Now mix them together in a coincidental meet-cute. The two (separately) decide to vacation in Vegas to find solace. Upon their arrival, they discover that their room has been double-booked, and they must share it (and the singular bed) since of course, the hotel is at capacity and they simply cannot be moved. Simmer their feelings on low for a while and make them sizzle on high at the climax, toss in a plot twist meant to ruin the dish, but finally end up with a wonderfully palatable result of happily-ever-after.
As with every recipe, it’s modified a little – the meet-cute, for example, is forgone in favor of another age-old trope: hate at first sight. Tom’s nonchalant attitude does not mix well with Wendy’s carping, making them the quintessential unlikely pair. Wendy’s ever-changing age (“What are you, seven?” “What are you, seventy?”), Tom’s unfiltered turns of phrase, and every aspect of their personality you can think of all become subjects of jabs. This inexhaustible supply of one-liners keeps the show afloat – a new one comes in to make you laugh again just in time before the humor of the last one wears off.
And oh, the music. Endearing, smooth, and charmingly simple, as the musical-comedy genre is wont to be. In the case of this show, it’s also unnecessary. The songs reinforce the plot points but do little to advance them. The singing thus feels like it’s done for little more than its own sake and detracts from the authentic progression of the story. “Getting There,” the ballad that follows Tom’s first mention of his wife’s death to Wendy, is a fine song. The heartfelt ballad punctuates a tender moment in which the pair both start a healing process and look positively toward their futures. But coupled with a preceding conversation and some of Marcus Aurelius’ philosophy that both deal with the subject, it’s just one punctuation too many.
I’ve heard it said that characters in musicals should break into song when what they’re feeling is too big to be spoken. The only song that lives up to that criterion is the maid Lili’s (Kelly Holden Bashar) second-act solo, “Lili’s Lament,” in which she decries the “revolting” way people leave their hotel rooms and wonders if she’s truly cleaning up after humans or if Godzilla is to blame. Ironically, it’s the least necessary number in the entire show. It does little to even augment the plot, let alone advance it, except for giving the audience-favorite character some more to do onstage besides coyly suggest that Wendy and Tom, well, get a room. But Bashar attacks the number with such ferocity and fun – a level of energy otherwise unseen during the songs – that it solidifies itself as the showstopper by the time the first verse is done.
Bashar’s other character, the perky hotel manager Louise, also leaves a mark on the memory at the end when she becomes the model for living a fulfilling life (“I left my husband back in Houston…Got me a house, a dog, a pick-up, and a wife”). Yacko is another standout as Tom – his abrasiveness and displays of grief are equally memorable – and Rudner is terrific at playing up the love-to-hate tendencies of Wendy, as the exasperated guest every customer service worker knows all too well (“We were told a bed would be here in less than five minutes an hour ago. I need to complain”) and as the technologically inept adult (“I have no idea how to get on the cloud…Am I on it now? Am I hashtag live-streaming?”) that so exasperates the youth in turn. Brian Lohmann rounds out the cast in multiple small roles and one Gus Solomon, Wendy’s husband, who performs his major number (“Fix It All,” an attempt to win his wife back) with the swagger and croon of an Elvis impersonator. Like strategic poker champions, each actor musters all their skill and does their best with what they’re dealt. But, as happens to Tom, sometimes they just don’t have the best hand, and all they can do is have fun. Two’s a Crowd is a whimsical, two-hour sojourn to Sin City, but it doesn’t quite hit the jackpot.