On The Twentieth Century has pulled into the proverbial station at the Roundabout’s American Airlines Theatre. On time and in splendid form. There are a lot of reasons to pick up the phone NOW and get tickets to this production. Pretty much all of them are contained in the 5 foot nuthin’ frame of one Kristin Chenoweth. Pound for pound this dame packs more punch than a boatload of prizefighters.
Based on the play by the same name this musical is a predictable piece of fluff that Scott Ellis has whipped up into a soufflé of extraordinary proportions. It is as fine a production as you will find anywhere. And if musicals are your preferred theatrical flavor, you will be in h-e-a-v-e-n.
Back in the day, trains were the preferred mode of transportation between anywhere and anywhere. They had names: The Jeffersonian, The Denver Zeohyr and yes, The Twentieth Century. In this case, the year is 1930 and Oscar Jaffe (Peter Gallagher) and his two serfs Oliver (Mark Linn baker) and Owen (Michael McGrath) are leaving, make that fleeing, Chicago where Oscar’s most recent production has flopped. His creditors would like to have his head or his hide, whichever is more painful for him to lose. Jaffe has sent his lackeys on ahead to procure Drawing Room A. Easily done when said drawing room is occupied by a certain Senator and his doll, who would like to reman anonymous.
Once he arrives, clinging to the side of the train, Oscar takes a devil-may-care attitude to their predicament, in spite of the caution his underlings urge him to exercise. Oscar is already on to his next project, which is to recapture the heart of the woman he loves, the woman he turned into a star, the woman who deserted him and the theatre for – egad – Hollywood: Lily Garland (Chenoweth). She will be on The Twentieth Century in Drawing Room B. Lily boards at the appointed stop with her latest beau Bruce Granit (A hilarious Andy Karl).
And the games begin.
Oliver is the chosen messenger sent to Lily and refused – Chenoweth stops the show with her performance of Never that she delivers with Gatling gun speed and precision.
Meantime there is a mystery person on the train who is posting Repent messages thither and yon. We are let in on her identity: Letitia Primrose (Mary Louise Wilson) and are serenaded with her litany of the sins that people are committing, thus endangering the entire world.
Oscar, with only hours to go until New York, is racking his brain for an idea to bring to Lily that will woo her back. He comes upon a Repent sign and has a lightbulb moment. Why not do the story of The Magdelene? Lily could never refuse THAT. All hands on deck: Contract, press releases and Bible Study. Jaffe decides to send in the big guns, meaning himself. More refusal, but a crack in Lily’s armor appears.
Mrs. Primrose offers to back the show because of its holy mission. Bingo. This will be too tempting for our temptress to refuse. As a matter of fact, adding a zero or two on her check will be no problem. Lily is as good as won.
Things do not go smoothly, however, and musical madness ensues. Long story short, the guy gets his gal, and the gal gets her starring role.
The music by Cy Coleman is catchy but not memorable. The orchestration and the singing, however, are exquisite. This is an ensemble cast that makes a joyful noise and appears to double in size before your eyes. The costumes by William Ivey Long are almost overwhelming in their radiance, not to mention their rapidity. The pacing is brisk and appears effortless. The slapstick is smooth as silk. Peter Gallagher is a wonderful surprise as a standup singer. Linn-Baker and McGrath are solid and dry as a bone. Mary Louise Wilson is having so much fun she cannot contain herself.
The cherry on the top is Chenoweth. She is nearly radioactive on that stage. She can sing; she can dance; she can act. A veritable triple threat who is not satisfied unless she is hitting it out of the park. She is a home run with every move, note and gesture. Not only that, but she will go the extra mile and leap out of the box into some astonishing time warp and pull the stops out with a move that makes your head spin.
I look forward to seeing her in a musical that matches her every molecule of talent.
This production of On The Twentieth Century show is a brilliant comet that should not be missed. It makes you remember that while the first rule of medicine is “Do no harm,” the first rule of theatre is “Entertain, entertain, entertain.” Bravo!!!
"In the theater, there is overacting, which is common and painful to watch. Then there’s over-the-moon acting, which is rare and occupies its own special cloud land in heaven. I am delighted to report that this latter art is being practiced in altitudinous-high style at the American Airlines Theater, where Kristin Chenoweth and Peter Gallagher are surfing the stratosphere in 'On the Twentieth Century.'"
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"Next stop, Broadway musical bliss. That’s where the Roundabout revival of 'On the Twentieth Century,' directed with verve by Scott Ellis, takes you."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"Gloriously revived by the Roundabout Theatre Company, this 1978 musical — now with sparkling turns by Kristin Chenoweth and Peter Gallagher — is a fast-paced romp."
Frank Scheck for New York Post
"On the Twentieth Century may be a cartoon, but it’s a Hirschfeld cartoon, and worth a trip."
Adam Feldman for Time Out New York
"A sizzling, sumptuous entertainment that pairs Chenoweth with a suavely roguish Peter Gallagher. Chenoweth is a petite powerhouse in the prima donna role of Lily."
Jennifer Farrar for Associated Press
"Co-stars Kristin Chenoweth and Peter Gallagher give it their all, delivering exactly the kind of over-the-top caricatures the antiquated material demands. However, while director Scott Ellis has a proven track record with comedy, he's off his game in this belabored revival."
David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter
"For a lot of us, this is the show of our dreams."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...