Review: On the Twentieth Century

On the 20th 0903- Karl, Chenoweth

Witnessing Kristen Chenoweth at the top of her form and perfectly cast is the whole reason to see this revival. The show’s creators, composer Cy Coleman and wordsmiths Betty Comden and Adolph Green, were all masters of musical theatre, but On the Twentieth Century is nobody’s best work. Don’t get me wrong, the musical is very entertaining and quite well-crafted, but it finally works best as a star vehicle. And, thank goodness, Chenoweth is one hell of a star!

Chenoweth plays bawdy and chic Hollywood star Lily Garland, whom bankrupt theater producer Oscar Jaffee (Peter Gallagher) wants to cajole into playing the lead in his new, yet-unwritten epic drama. This madcap pursuit takes place aboard the Twentieth Century, a luxury train travelling from Chicago to New York City. Chenoweth is truly incandescent here, her frisky comic chops ideally matched to Comden and Green’s smartalecky wit.

Gallagher is far nuttier and better looking than David Belasco, the fading impresario on whom Jaffee’s based. Not to mention hammier, in a good way (although he would be hard pressed to out-ham Andy Karl as vain, muscle-bound movie leading man Bruce Granit)! Director Scott Ellis is having a lot of success this season combining fearless comic actors with suitably over-the-top characters, both here and in You Can’t Take It With You. His staging also imparts a much needed impish energy to the show.

There’s also an adorable quartet of train porters – who execute some of the best moves I’ve seen from choreographer Warren Carlyle. They even get a showstopping number of their own, the Act II opener “Life’s a Train”. The whole show is never less thans a giddy good time. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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