“This is by far the most elaborate show drop we have been involved with. It sets the mood for the entire show.”
—David Rockwell, set designer for On the Twentieth Century, discusses the Art Deco-inspired drop-curtain that greets the audience when it enter the theater’s auditorium.
By way of the giddy stage musical, On the Twentieth Century, step aboard the Twentieth Century Limited, a luxury passenger train. It is waiting in the station at 42nd Street’s American Airlines Theater; it is ready to depart Chicago for New York City. This madcap adventure combines luck, love and playful pranks.
Tony and Emmy Award winner Kristin Chenoweth stars as Lily Garland in On the Twentieth Century, the most nominated revival of the 2014-2015 Broadway theater season. Golden Globe winner Peter Gallagher co-stars as the bankrupt theater producer Oscar Jaffee. Miss Chenoweth will host the Tony Awards on Sunday, June 7 live from Radio City Music Hall. On the Twentieth Century has received five Tony nominations, including Best Revival of a Musical.
The screwball comedy plot, a spirit-lifting staple during the dismal days of the Great Depression, was directed by Helmer Ellis, whose recent Broadway credit is You Can’t Take It With You. This dazzling new production of On the Twentieth Century features snazzy Art Deco sets by David Rockwell and costumes by William Ivey Long. It stokes our longing for Broadway’s golden age. First produced on Broadway in 1978, this show allows the book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Alfred Green, and the music by Cy Coleman to sparkle.
In the 1930s train travel was a glamorous and romantic adventure; this is the tone that infuses the show. It begins when the chorus of stylishly-costumed, first-class passengers arrive at Chicago’s Union Station to board the storied Twentieth Century Limited. Their song informs us that this train is “the aristocrat of locomotive trains” and “the eighth wonder of the world.”
The most thrilling part of the show for me were the four fabulous singing-tap-dancing-showstopping porters, who launch each of the two acts along its way. Their dazzling footwork, and the rest of the dance numbers, were created by choreographer Warren Carlyle. These fast-paced numbers first prepare us for our 16-hour journey aboard the 20th Century Limited; and then they give us our second head of steam to carry us through to the end of the line.
The songs for this merry, madcap musical are novelty numbers that were designed to keep the action moving at a break-neck pace. Miss Chenoweth as Lily is the show’s main draw. Her comic talent and her coloratura voice are well-suited to the role. Peter Gallagher, as handsome as ever, turns in an excellent performance. Andy Karl, still hunky and muscular from his appearance in the title role of Rocky, the Musical, takes on the role of Bruce Granit, Lily Garland’s love interest, in very funny. Eighty-three year old Mary Louise Wilson gives the show its mischievous spark!
In the lobby of the show’s venue, the American Airlines Theater, a helpful and informative timeline is displayed. If you should think that any of the comic antics are too zany, it’s worth bearing in mind that the plays, written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, which were the original source material for this musical, were created during the Great Depression; people were eager for a laugh.