There are some second tier musicals from the past that have been crying out to be revived when all the stars are aligned. And by stars I mean people stars, not celestial stars. In this case the entire cast of ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY – starring the brightest star of all Kristin Chenoweth – a beautiful lyric soprano/belter who positively glows, radiating charm and comedy in this excellent production of the uneven, sometimes mad-cap sometimes boring 1978 show written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green (book and lyrics) Cy Coleman (music). Surprising it won a couple of Tony Awards. It was a so-so season for musicals that year.
Ms. Chenoweth was all of ten years old when this operetta-like screw-ball inspired comedy opened on Broadway and it appears that she was born to play the role of Mildred Plotka (an extremely amusing piano accompanist) who in flashback and within minutes is hired by director Oscar Jaffee (an excellent Peter Gallagher – in his best Barrymore mode with strong vocals) to star in his latest opus as Lily Garland – as in Judy. They sort of fall in love. He makes her a star.
Back to the future. Oscar is fleeing Chicago where he has had another opening another closing (during intermission) and people are after him. Again. His other two side-kick Musketeers Oliver Webb (Mark Linn-Baker) and Owen O’Malley (Michael McGrath) are to book Suite A on the Twentieth Century but it is occupied by Congressman Lockwood (Andy Taylor) and his traveling companion Anita (Analisa Leaming). They are quickly removed.
Traveling in Suite B is Lily Garland who is now a huge Hollywood star and her muscular, sexy and egocentric boyfriend Bruce Granit (the affable/laughable Andy Karl). Oscar hopes to rekindle their relationship and sign her to do his new Broadway show. But there is another director after Lily – the successful Max Jacobs (James Moye) – Oscar’s rival.
Adding to the mayhem is Letitia Peabody Primrose (a spry Mary Louise Wilson) a wealthy, elderly lady who is attaching REPENT stickers to all and sundry. She somehow is taken with Oscar (or is it taken by Oscar?) and his project, becoming the major investor – writing a check with Five Zeros (which is one of the better numbers from the limp pastiche score by Cy Coleman. Comden & Green’s lyrics are not up to their usual witty standards and are often repeated to the point of being dull – a theatrical no-no.
Now to the good stuff. The overall production is gorgeous. Sets by David Rockwell and costumes by the inimitable William Ivey Long are breathtakingly beautiful. Scott Ellis has done another fine job in directing this farce and keeping the pace break neck when allowed by the book and songs which put ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY in the “not very good” category.
The four porters. They are excellent. More than excellent. Tapping to the choreography of Warren Carlyle and smiling and holding together the plot en route to New York. Rick Faugno, Richard Riaz Yoder, Phillip Attmore and Drew King. They open Act II with a show-stopping “Life Is Like a Train.”
The energetic cast does all it can to make this 1978 show bubble like champagne. Unfortunately they are working with sparkling water. At the American Airlines Theatre through July 5th. A Roundabout production.
Photos: Joan Marcus
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