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Full Speed Ahead “On the 20th Century” Broadway revival – Review March 15, 2015

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, musical theater, Musicals.
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Full disclosure — The original “On the 20th Century” in 1978 is one of my all-time favorite musicals. It is the show that turned me on to set design, and set motion, and integrating movement between actors and the on-stage artistic elements. I couldn’t wait to see the revival, and I loved it too.

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Two Comden and Green musicals are playing next door to each other (On the Town and 20th Century) on 42nd Street — and both are “best revival musical of 2014/15” – good luck choosing which is better.

Spectacular Kristin Chenoweth as Lili Garland and good Peter Gallagher as Oscar Jaffee spar, slapstick, and frolic on their Chicago to New York train ride. Don’t know the story? Oscar mentored then had a relationship with Lili in NYC, who eventually left to make movies with her new boyfriend Bruce Granit (A hilarious Andy Karl). Now Oscar needs her back, both for monetary salvation as well as love. His attempts to woo her back are the crux of the story. Throw in a deranged older woman religious zealot (solid Mary Louise Wilson), Jaffee’s two business partners (delightful Mark Linn-Baker and Michael McGrath), and a quartet of tap-dancing porters that bring down the house (literally – they got a show-stopping standing ovation after their Act II opener at my performance) and you have a rollicking good time.

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The beautiful art-deco set design by David Rockwell echoes the originals with a budget-mindedness imposed by the Roundabout Theatre Company. Not so much the costumes, which glitter and shine by William Ivey Long. The show has been re-orchestrated for 12 rather than 21 but it sounds full and rich playing Larry Hochman’s marvelous orchestrations of Cy Coleman’s music (note that this is not a revival imposition: the orchestrations were reduced during the original Broadway run). Modern day sound systems do marvels for Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s remarkable book and lyrics. The single mis-step in the show comes late in act II when Jaffee’s penultimate Moment (The Legacy) was re-written by Adolph Green’s daughter Amanda Green with the same tune but new uninspired lyrics (“Because of Her”). It leaves Peter Gallagher without the required 11:00 number and keeps the audience firmly in the grip of Chenoweth instead.

It would spoil the surprises to divulge much more about what this 20th Century has in store for its 2015 audience…but rest assured — you get the interiors and the exteriors — the train rotates, the locomotive comes toward you and moves backwards and forwards (though curiously never toward stage right which means all the antics in drawing rooms A and B are played on Stage Left — purchase seats in house right, they are better — note — box seats on house right are obscured). Some of us will recall the lovely sequence in the ’78 original when two trains pass in the dark…that doesn’t happen here but there are other surprises of a technical nature that were unimaginable back then. The “big chase” of Letitia Primrose from one end of the train to the other is a stunner.

Highly Recommended.  Roundabout Theatre Company, at the American Airlines Theatre, NYC.

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