Music: Vernon Duke
Lyrics: Ogden Nash
Additional Lyrics: Sammy Cahn
Reviewer: Mark Clegg
It is not unheard of for a fading Hollywood star to travel east and ply their trade on Broadway. Once there, their famous name could potentially generate ticket sales regardless of how miscast they are. Two’s Company was such a vehicle for a true queen of the silver screen – Bette Davis.
Davis’ career was at its height in the 1930s and early 40s. Various problems in her personal life and some bad career choices meant that she seemed to be all but washed up by 1949. And so in 1952 she answered the call from the Great White Way to headline a show business themed musical review by Charles Sherman called Two’s Company.
Although renowned as an iconic actress, Davis had never performed in a musical before this. Very quickly one can see why, with her performance easily likened to witnessing a beloved aunt getting plastered at a family event and getting up to do karaoke – badly. Her singing is the vocal equivalent of Les Dawson’s piano playing. Her vocals contain more flats than the Tour de France. You get the idea. At one point in the song “Purple Rose” she attempts to harmonise with the supporting chorus and the resulting noise can only be realistically described as a resulting noise.Years later Elaine Stritch would prove that you don’t actually need to be able to sing beautifully to sell a song. Sadly Davis is the exception to the Stritch Rule.
In a show that features an actress so unsuited to the genre, one would expect that the producers would surround her with amazingly talented singers to try and distract from her. Bizarrely this does not seem to have been the case.Peter Kelley is the obligatory tenor and performs acceptably but not outstandingly. The various other female soloists (Deborah Remsen, Ellen Hanley and Sue Hight) are similarly inoffensive and rather interchangeable. At least Davis has a distinct personality on the recording. Comedy songs contain the lyrics that are best mildly amusing (the punny “Esther” raises a slight smile) but which are delivered so ineptly that finding them funnyis a real challenge. Hiram Sherman carries the bulk of the comedy and it is perplexing from listening to this CD that he won a Tony for his performance. He must have been good in the sketches.
The score doesn’t stand much of chance in the hands of such performers but it valiantly pushes through… to reveal itself to be bland and derivative – a real shock considering its pedigree. The only memorable tune in the whole show is Davis’ first number “Turn Me Loose on Broadway”, and that only sticks in the mind because it is almost identical to Georhe M. Cohen’s 1904 song “Give My Regards to Broadway”. The entire score seems dated even for 1952, particularly considering that Kiss Me Kate and Pal Joey made their debuts the same year.Interestingly, the always great Jerome Robbins choreographed the show so presumably all the best bits are invisible on this recording.
Happily Davis’ career would be resuscitated by What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? in 1962 and which lead to a string of film rôles throughout the 70s and early 80s. For a lesser icon, Two’s Company would have been the equivalent of career suicide.
This CD could be recommended under the category “so bad, it’s good” particularly for the performance of Davis who unsurprisingly (and thankfully) did not do another musicalafter this.