This is what Norbert Leo Butz remembers about the first time he saw Sherie Rene Scott: “She was extremely vivacious and beautiful and funny and hip and she smoked with me.”
“That’s not true,” said Ms. Scott, from the other end of the sofa.
Ms. Scott and Mr. Butz, each a bright star in the Broadway musical firmament, met 22 years ago as members of the “Rent” replacement cast. (Her early impression of him: “I felt, like, fat around him, and I just thought he was so great.”) Later, they starred opposite each other in “The Last Five Years.” They were nearly cast as the wife and husband in “Next to Normal.” They originated lead roles in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.”
Onstage they have dated, married, divorced. Offstage, they have never been single at the same time. “Thank God,” Ms. Scott said. “We are meant to be friends.”
But in 2006, for reasons they will discuss onstage, but not during a recent rehearsal session at the book-crammed midtown home of their music director, Todd Almond, their friendship splintered. They didn’t speak for almost a decade.
In “Twohander,” the cabaret show that isn’t really a cabaret show and begins July 9 at Feinstein’s/54 Below, they are together again, playing characters named Sherie and Norbert, belting rock songs and latter-day standards as they trace two decades of work, love and tension. (As the innuendo-laden teaser videos suggest, a lot of that tension is sexual.)
Written by Ms. Scott (a Tony Award nominee for the book of “Everyday Rapture”) and directed by Dick Scanlan, it’s a play with music, a he-said, she-said. Or is that a he-sang, she-sang?
Do they have plans to take it beyond Feinstein’s/54 Below? Maybe, Mr. Butz would later write in an email, but “she may want to replace me with Jake Gyllenhaal or Chris Pine. I would.” (“Partial to Benicio Del Toro,” she replied.)
On a recent afternoon, Mr. Butz, a two-time Tony winner and, at 52, a compelling argument for dadbod, and Ms. Scott, also 52 and forever young in an orange cardigan and frayed daisy dukes, leaned against Mr. Almond’s piano, singing Supertramp’s “Dreamer.”
His tenor, which Mr. Almond described as “wild, woolly, acrobatic,” twined around her clearwater soprano, each urging the other higher. They worked through a book section, and the two interlopers in the room — myself, a photographer — couldn’t always tell where the dialogue ended and the off-script teasing began.
“You must be very confused,” Mr. Butz said.
Was that in the script? Unclear. Tantalizingly, the “Twohander” text was on the coffee table the whole time, but it was hidden underneath some bananas. Though an earlier version of the show had played the club in April, Ms. Scott was now revising it. “They say, ‘Keep them wanting more,’ but we really did,” she said of the initial response. So she preferred not to share it, or even much of the song list, “earring on the side of caution,” as she wrote in an email, a nicely feminine typo.
“Twohander” is part autobiography and part autofiction. The songs they have shared, the roles they have played, they’re here. But some offstage events have been elided or invented, exaggerated or condensed.
“Sometimes you subvert the facts to get to the truth, you know?” Ms. Scott said, once Mr. Almond had retreated with sushi and she and Mr. Butz had relocated to the couch, the coffee table between them crowded with various waters, juices and tinctures.
“It’s all true,” Ms. Scott continued. “It’s just not all — ”
Mr. Butz finished the sentence for her: “It didn’t all happen.”
Truth doesn’t always stick to the melody. In 2015, years after what both will insist on calling their “fracture” (more on that in a minute), they saw each other again while singing at a benefit. In 2016, another benefit reunited them.
The next year they did one more, and when they finally met at Ms. Scott’s apartment, they realized how much their perspectives had differed, an experience Mr. Butz (who has enjoyed vivid turns in the television dramas “Bloodline” and “Fosse/Verdon”) likened to Showtime’s “The Affair.”
“We’re both coming at the truth from a different angle,” he said, an idea reflected in the overlapping and often contradictory dialogue Ms. Scott has written.
O.K. About that fracture. Ms. Scott would say that it happened in the workplace and that the show discusses “the truth of the challenges and the beautiful things of a workplace relationship with masculine/ feminine, male/ female dynamic.” But she didn’t want to give specifics, and in this, as in most of the conversation, Mr. Butz followed her lead.
“It’s something that’s very relatable, but it’s also something that’s deeply personal, and I think how we contextualize it in the show is very clear, but if we were to speak about it now, it would kind of minimize it, and so I don’t want to mischaracterize it in any way that is not at the gravity of what it was, and using a language that would be a quick answer wouldn’t suffice,” Ms. Scott said.
“Does that answer your question?” Mr. Butz added.
Once they had reconciled, Mr. Butz, who performs at Feinstein’s/54 Below nearly every year with his band — “my summer vacay,” he called it — tried to talk Ms. Scott into doing a show with him, a best-of catalog, maybe a few sketches. She declined. She would only do a show if she felt it could serve a story, in this case, their own story.
Mr. Butz wasn’t so sure. Or he was sure, and then he wasn’t. But he knows a good part when he reads one, and the scenes brought to him by Ms. Scott — who has mined her own experience in shows like “Everyday Rapture” and “Whorl Inside a Loop” — were personal, playable.
On the train back to New Jersey, he would think, I can’t possibly do this. Then he would think, I have to do this.
Jack O’Brien, who had directed them in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” saw the show in April. He brought John Lithgow, their co-star in that musical. “The two of us,” he told me by telephone, “I’m not kidding, were weeping with joy and so moved by what they had sustained, what they meant to each other.”
Their chemistry? “Alchemic,” he said.
Ms. Scott, who may be confused about the club’s typical ticket buyer, emphasized that attendees don’t need to have seen “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” or really any of their shows to enjoy this one. This working relationship could be any working relationship, this job any job. (Well, any job that requires you to make out with your co-workers every night.) She hopes that the story of their friendship — its rift and its repair — can help others. “We want to be part of the healing,” she said.
“Did I mention it’s really funny and entertaining and sexy?” Mr. Butz added.