Chenoweth as Lily GarlandPhoto: Joan Marcus
by Eugene Paul
Screwball? Yes. Madcap? Yes.
Zany? Yesss. Dizzying pace? Yes. Laughs? Galore. Laughs? Raucous. Laughs?
Kristin Chenoweth? A scream.
Peter Gallagher? A hoot. Andy Karl? A howl. Mark Linn-Baker, Michael
McGrath, Mary Louise Wilson? Funny, funny, funny. Rick Faugno, Richard Riaz
Yoder, Drew King, Phillip Attmore, the dancing porters, absolute show
stoppingly knockouts in routines good, better, best, bestest. Make that all
bestest. Choreographer Warren Carlyle – having a helluva season – is the
So what are you waiting for?
It’s only on until July 5.
And what’s on is On The
Twentieth Century, first time in 37 years, which startling info may not
float your boat but seeing is believing and you will be a believer once you get
a load of the utterly nutso caper that director Scott Ellis has conjured up in
feverish glee. Do not be in doubt for a second, this is a scrupulously
cleverly contrived confection, masterfully constructed, spiced, seasoned,
paced, delivered with enough pizzazz to send sparklers in the sky, practically
perfect. We’ll get to that “Practically” in a bit but, first, the show.
Well, first, there was this
unproduced play by Bruce Milholland. Ben Hecht and Charlie MacArthur took it
and after they massaged it in their deft paws, built Twentieth Century, a
hit play and a hit movie centered on Oscar Jaffee, flamboyant producer of four
flops in a row, who leaves his unpaid company of actors stranded in Chicago and
ducks out of town on the “Twentieth Century”, the luxury super train of the
1930’s between Chicago and New York. His two henchmen have conned a stateroom
for him right next to that of Lily Garland, hot, hot, hot movie star who Oscar
had discovered when she was little Mildred Plotka. All he has to do before they
arrive in New York is get her to sign a contract with him for his next
production whatever the hell it is and he’ll be back on top. Small detail: Lily
hates his guts. Lots of other details go along with the trip, especially,
Lily’s unexpected new boy toy, muscle man Bruce Granit.
Master show mavens, Adolf Green
and Betty Comden took the show and wheedled it into a musical, their book and
lyrics pushing lunacy apace, married to a score by the great Cy Coleman
keeping their star lunatics at shriek peak, infusing this 1930’s situation with
a bouncy, trouncy necklace of songs Coleman nails in place as a tongue in cheek
takeoff on Viennese operettas, of all things. And it works, but, sorry, folks,
you won’t be singing along. There isn’t a darn song you want to remember.
What, “Saddle Up the Horse on the 20th Century”? “Repent”? “I Have
Written a Play”? “Stranded”? “She’s a Nut”? C’mon… And that’s not even half
of them. But why should you care, anyway? You’ll be rolling in the aisles or
Chenoweth and Peter Gallagher in "On the Twentieth Century."Photo:
Oh, what’s not perfect? Well, excuse
me, but when a big deal designer, David Rockwell, goes crazy being smashingly
clever and witty and nostalgic and satiric – and nuts – why, oh, why didn’t he
put Lily Garland’s compartment center stage since 70 percent of the action
takes place there instead of way over where it logically belongs? Why be
logical? In this show?
And that’s all. The rest is an
adrenalin dream boat. William Ivey Long’s costumes are so cleverly derivative
they’ll set trends by themselves. John Weston’s sound design lets you have it,
Donald Holder’s lighting smacks you in the eye, Amanda Green’s added lyrics
really add, over and over those ridiculously over the top production numbers
from director Scott Ellis and choreographer Warren Carlyle play perilous,
audacious games with sense and nonsense and win. And ultimately, there’s solid
brass solid gold Kristin Chenoweth, untoppable. What a ride.
On The Twentieth Century. At the
American Air Lines Theatre, 227 West 42nd Street. Tickets: $67-$162.
212-719-1300. 2 hrs 30 min. Thru July 5.