‘Sherie Rene Scott & Norbert Leo Butz: Twohander’ runs through July 28 at Feinstein’s/54 Below. 254 W. 54th St., 54below.com.
Once upon a time, three-time Tony nominee Sherie Rene Scott and two-time Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz were the ideal rock musical romantic couple — at least in the eyes of millennial musical theater fanatics such as myself.
After meeting as replacement cast members in “Rent,” Scott and Butz played Cathy and Jamie respectively in the original 2002 Off-Broadway production of Jason Robert Brown’s song cycle “The Last Five Years,” which ran only a short time but spawned an extraordinary cast album.
Soon afterward, Scott and Butz played husband and wife again in an early reading of “Next to Normal” (then titled “Feeling Electric”) and played opposite each other yet again in the 2005 Broadway musical comedy “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels." Over the next 14 years, Scott and Butz continued to work regularly on Broadway, but never in the same show.
I never imagined there was an actual reason for the split. But in their new two-person performance piece "Twohander," which is described as a blend of autobiography and fiction, Scott and Butz divulge the personal and intimate details that supposedly led to their longtime estrangement.
Written by Scott and directed by Dick Scanlan (“Thoroughly Modern Millie”) and running at Feinstein’s/54 Below through the end of the month, "Twohander" is a fast-paced blend of personal confession, musical theater trivia, self-parody and cabaret performance.
This is not Scott’s first time playing an exaggerated version of herself — it follows her offbeat solo musical “Everyday Rapture” (which transferred to Broadway) and her actress-meets-male prisoners drama “Whorl Inside a Loop.”
Backed by a band, Scott and Butz deliver overlapping monologues, where they criticize and complain about each other, present dueling accounts of their history together and share numerous awkward moments (which may or may not be true).
Scott maintains the kind of crazy-hyper but totally sincere persona that is ideal for modern musical comedies, while Butz is more downbeat, as he relives periods of family separation and substance abuse.
With both in great voice, they perform songs from their past musicals and a diverse array of pop songs such as “Freedom! ’90,” “Dreamer,” “Two of Us” and “Save It for Later.”
The standout sequence involves “The Last Five Years,” in which Butz gives an emotional rendition of the solo “If I Didn’t Believe in You.” The pair argue over character motivation and the challenge of performing the show downtown right after 9/11.
The show runs out of steam toward the end, but that is not surprising considering how this is an experimental work in progress, and it is highly enjoyable throughout. I do hope to see “Twohander” again, or at least another show with both Scott and Butz — perhaps a reunion concert of “The Last Five Years”?