Dreamed up in collaboration between multiple Tony Award winners Susan Stroman and Mandy Patinkin (colloquially known as Inigo Montoya), performance artist/songwriter Taylor Mac, and music director Paul Ford, The Last Two People On Earth: An Apocalyptic Vaudeville is, as the title suggests, a wild collection of juxtapositions and contradictions. The performance brings together two polar opposite characters—one optimistic, one rough—into a stark world ravaged by a biblical storm that strands them alone together.
“It is a vaudeville, but within that vaudeville, it’s about two people coming together and understanding each other’s quirks and personality,” says Susan Stroman, the show’s director. “Two people who, being alone, ultimately know that the only way they will survive now is if they get along.”
They soon find that their only means of communication is one that’s not often the centerpiece of stories dealing with the apocalyptic aftermath of global warming—song and dance.
Patinkin and Mac perform entirely in song throughout the performance, punctuated with vaudevillian steps and movements that give the show its name. Stroman explains that most of the music performed will be a wide range from the American songbook—an eclectic mix covering contemporary hits, selections from the vast discography of Rodgers and Hammerstein, old standards from past decades, and a few original songs that Taylor Mac himself has written.
“Both of them move really well, and part of the dance is them coming together and seeing eye to eye on things. When they start to dance, they start to enjoy each other,” Stroman says. “And I know that their voices—Mandy and Taylor’s—are extraordinary.”
The idea to stage an intimate performance centered around singing was solely Mandy Patinkin’s, Stroman says. She has always considered herself to be a great admirer of Patinkin’s work, and immediately agreed to take part in the project when Patinkin called her one day with little more than a vague idea in mind.
“Mandy loves performing, he really loves it. He wanted a show rather than just a concert,” she says. “He had met Taylor Mac and thought his voice and Taylor’s would go extraordinarily well together, and they do. The blend of their voices is spectacular, and Mandy was able to recognize that.”
“They just started to talk, and they thought they should bring somebody in to help guide it and to make this into a show, so Mandy called me. I met with Mandy and Taylor in Taylor’s apartment, and they just started to sing for me. And, you know, we just talked about different songs that they like to sing, and we decided to just go into a studio and do some improv.”
After employing the help of Patinkin’s music director Paul Ford, the group went about the time-consuming but exciting work of scouring the American discography for a list of songs that would allow them to tell their story. “It was all about how to push the story forward,” Stroman says. “It was all about finding the right music.”
Patinkin and Mac also knew that they wanted to tell a relevant story, one that addressed an issue close to their hearts—and in the midst of their weeks of improv, they soon decided to make global warming the show’s focus.
“I think it’ll make people think at the end of it. At the end of the show, you will start to think about what’s happening. If you haven’t been aware of it, you’ll be aware after this show because it is absolutely about something getting so bad, weather-wise, and for us, that one might find themselves alone and looking for contact with others,” Stroman says.
Despite its serious origins, Stroman promises that the show will be anything but a downer. It’s a story of friendship, first and foremost, and it finds its foundation in the unique development of an unlikely but highly endearing relationship.
Stroman firmly believes that the show holds something for everybody, and is excited that the cast will be able to bring The Last Two People On Earth to Boston.
“Boston is a great audience town,” she says. “The audiences there are very theatre-savvy. And I think people will be entertained.”
THE AMERICAN REPERTORY THEATER (A.R.T.) PRESENTS: THE LAST TWO PEOPLE ON EARTH: AN APOCALYPTIC VAUDEVILLE. NOW PLAYING THROUGH SUN 5.31. LOEB DRAMA CENTER. 64 BRATTLE ST., CAMBRIDGE. TICKETS START AT $25. FOR MORE INFORMATION VISIT AMERICANREPERTORYTHEATER.ORG