Every so often an actor or actress steps into a role impeccably suited for their talents. Think of Matthew Broderick as J. Pierpont Finch in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying or Nathan Lane as Max Bialystock in The Producers. Now we can add to the list Kristen Chenoweth as Lily Garland in the current revival of On the Twentieth Century. Chenoweth’s talents are perfect for the egocentric movie star with a full-throttled voice.
The musical takes place on the Chicago to New York City train, the Twentieth Century. On board washed up producer/director Oscar Jaffee, played with self-aggrandizing delight by Peter Gallagher, plots his comeback with the idea of inking Ms. Garland, a fellow traveler, to a contract for a new play. The problem is the two have a long, disharmonious relationship dating back years earlier after Jaffee first discovered the innocent Ms. Mildred Plotka a.k.a. Lily Garland. Helping with the scheme are two of Jaffee’s associates, Oliver Webb and Owen O’Malley, played with lovable beguilement by Mark Linn-Baker and Michael McGrath. Running interference is Garland’s dimwitted movie co-star and boyfriend, Bruce Granit, played with a comic zest by Andy Karl, last season’s Rocky. Adding to the hijinks is loveable spinster and religious fanatic, Letitia Primrose, played with youthful vigor by Mary Louise Wilson, who declares she is the president and founder of Primrose Restoria Pills. Her pledge to monetarily back Oscar Jaffee’s new production is the final catalyst in propelling On the Twentieth Century to its gleeful end.
Both stars--Kristen Chenoweth and Peter Gallagher—make a triumphant return to Broadway in roles they truly relish. Their comedic foreplay and prowess are a true pleasure for the audience. The aforementioned supporting cast, all seasoned stage veterans, give the production a feel of almost too many riches. While all the performers are superb, there are two special mentions to note. First, is Mary Louise Wilson in the featured role as Ms. Primrose. She is a comic tour de force and her big number, “Repent,” is priceless. Second, is the quartet of actors portraying the train porters that pop up at the beginning of the show and strategically throughout. They are tap dancing and singing wizards that energize the musical.
The score by Cy Coleman and Betty Comden and Adolph Green is one of my favorites. It is buoyant, tuneful, and gives each of the principle actors a chance to shine. There are many great songs including such entertaining gems as “Veronique,” “Never,” and “She’s a Nut.”
Director Scott Ellis keeps the atmosphere light and the pacing nimble. He gives his troupe of thespians plenty of room to flex their acting muscles and they deliver flawlessly.
Set designer, David Rockwell, has done a magnificent job recreating the train’s luxury interiors. William Ivey Long’s costumes are sumptuous and transport you back to a time when lavish train travel was more the norm.
On the Twentieth Century, a rollicking good time with numerous star turns by a formidable cast led by the irresistible Kristen Chenoweth.