Friday, April 10, 2015

On the Twentieth Century ****

Roundabout Theatre is presenting the first Broadway revival of this 1978 show with music by Cy Coleman and book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Based on the 1932 play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, this screwball comedy with music takes us back to the glory days of rail travel. The lavish art deco set by David Rockwell and glamorous costumes by William Ivey Long establish the perfect mood, which is enhanced by the stylized movement of Warren Carlyle’s choreography and the assured direction of Scott Ellis.  The lead characters are Oscar Jaffee (the adequate Peter Gallagher), a down-but-not-out producer, and Lily Garland (the incomparable Kristin Chenoweth), his former lover and muse who has left him and the theater for Hollywood stardom. Jaffee hopes to use the 16-hour train trip from Chicago to New York to sign Garland for a new show to revive his career. Mark Linn-Baker and Michael McGrath are amusing as Jaffee’s loyal aides. Mary Louise Wilson is a hoot as Letitia Peabody Primrose, a dotty, wealthy woman with a checkbook who might bankroll Jaffee. As Lily’s more brawny than brainy boy toy Bruce Granit, Andy Karl almost steals the show. The four porters who tap their way through the show are delightful. It’s all so stylish and entertaining that you might wonder why it took over 35 years to revive the show. One reason is the extreme vocal demands of the operetta-tinged score which require someone of Chenoweth’s rare talents. It’s good to have her back on Broadway. Another possible explanation is that the music, which works well within the framework of the show, lacks any songs that you are likely to leave the theater humming. Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes including intermission.

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