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Roundabout Theatre Company Presents Kristin Chenoweth in "On the Twentieth Century" at American Airlines Theatre
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Roundabout Theatre Company Presents Kristin Chenoweth in "On the Twentieth Century" at American Airlines Theatre

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Roundabout Theatre Company
Todd Haimes, Artistic Director
Harold Wolpert, Managing Director
Julia C. Levy, Executive Director
Sydney Beers, General Manager/Exec. Producer

Kristin Chenoweth, Peter Gallagher
Andy Karl, Mark Linn-Baker, Michael McGrath

And an ensemble of actors/singers/dancers

On the Twentieth Century
(On the Twentieth Century Website)

Book & Lyrics by Betty Comden & Adolph Green
(Based on plays by B. Hecht, C. MacArthur, B. Millholland
Music by Cy Coleman

Directed by Scott Ellis
Choreographed by Warren Carlyle

At the
American Airlines Theatre
227 West 47th Street

Set Design: David Rockwell
Costume Design: William Ivey Long
Lighting Design: Donald Holder
Sound Design: Jon Weston
Orchestrations: Larry Hochman
Dance Arrangements & Incidental Music: David Krane
Musical Coordinator: John Miller
Hair & Wig Design: Paul Huntley
Additional Material: Marco Pennette
Additional Lyrics: Amanda Green
Assoc. Director: Kasey RT Graham
Assoc. Choreographer: Angie Canuel
Production Stage Manager: Scott Taylor Rollison
Production Management: Aurora Productions
Casting: Jim Carnahan, CSA, Stephen Kopel, CSA
“On the Twentieth Century” General Manager: Denise Cooper
Director of Marketing & Audience Dvpt.: Robert Sweibel
Director of Development: Lynne Guggenheim Gregory
Adams Assoc. /Artistic Director: Scott Ellis
Founding Director: Gene Feist
Press: Polk & Co.

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 8, 2015 Matinee

Roundabout Theatre Company has outdone itself on this magnificent, grandiose revival of the Comden-Green-Coleman On the Twentieth Century, with music and lyrics evocative of old operettas, imbued with challenging vocals and rhythm. The show opens with David Rockwell’s almost life-size, 1932 luxury Central Railroad train, called the Twentieth Century Limited, with private suites outfitted like posh, art deco hotels. The pulse of the production is a four-man team of porters, who grab hold of each other’s backs and chug along in song and tap, raising the roof in contagious ebullience. Warren Carlyle, who directed and choreographed Cotton Club Parade, which was adapted for the Broadway After Midnight, includes his signature four-man-shuffles and tight-step, turning line dance. Rick Faugno, Richard Riaz Yoder, Phillip Attmore, and Drew King are the exceptional porters who delight throughout this rousing, Chicago to New York locomotion. Peter Gallagher, as Oscar Jaffee, a 1930’s producer, needs a power star to get his finances out of the red, and, luckily, he has a great show he plans to mount in New York, after four shows, one by one, quickly shuttered in Chicago. Oscar’s coterie includes Mark Linn-Baker, as Oliver Webb, and Michael McGrath, as Owen O’Malley, wise-guys and drunken thugs, whose job it is to land a signature on a contract for that pot-of-gold show.

Oscar’s object of stage-star desire, his former ingénue, actress/singer/lover, Mildred Plotka, has transformed into Lily Garland, a wow of a box office movie star, and Oscar has positioned his entourage in the car next to Lily. To make life amusing, Lily has brought her own “body man”, Bruce Granit, played by the gym-fit Andy Karl, who still seems ready for his recent turn as the bulked-up Rocky on Broadway. Bruce’s onstage physicality, with pushups and pull-ups, is impressive, and he’s one fine vaudevillian, as well. Kristen Chenoweth is Mildred, then Lily, and her metamorphosis is breathtaking. William Ivey Long’s glamorous, glittery gowns make the diminutive Ms. Chenoweth seize the stage and moment, as she shifts emotions and self-serving needs between Bruce and Oscar. In the effort to gain financing for his New York show, Oscar and friends finagle a delusional, seemingly wealthy lady, who likes to slap posters on passengers backs. That octogenarian, obsessed with themes of religion and salvation, Letitia Peabody Primrose (Mary Louise Wilson), dances up a storm. James Moye is a magnetic movie mogul, Max Jacobs, who stands to lose his star. The ensemble figures prominently as characters on the train and as characters in Lily’s ambitious, self-aggrandizing, dramatic dreams, where she imagines herself onstage in New York, as a heroine in the French Revolution and as Mary, mother of Jesus. Faster than the porters’ swivel steps, the ensemble switches personas. Yet, the busy stage never seems dizzy, and songs fizz like the ever-flowing champagne.

Although Mr. Gallagher had been out ill, close to my matinee date, his voice was resonant and rich. His poignant solo, “Because of Her”, won a rousing ovation. Ms. Chenoweth, time after time, almost stopped the show with her larger than life vocal strength, especially in “Babette”, one of the imaginary sequences. Ms. Wilson handled Letitia’s solo number, “Repent”, with wry, sly attitude. Later, the entire company, in an over-the-top segment about Letitia and her checks, dashed about the train in the hilarious, “She’s a Nut”. David Rockwell’s scenic design, with the puffing, whistling Twentieth Century, must be seen to be believed. It made me jealous, thinking of the disheveled condition of even a first class ride on Amtrak, to and from shabby Penn Station, these days. William Ivey Long’s costumes, as well, would make any woman wish to slim down to Ms. Chenoweth’s petite form, just to wear one of these swoon-worthy gowns for a minute or two. Donald Holder’s interior lighting is a bright golden glow, and Jon Weston’s sound kept every word in the dialogue and music pitch perfectly clear. But, it’s Scott Ellis’ tightly timed direction, with each visual gag and gesture hitting its mark, and Warren Carlyle’s charming choreography, even sprung against the doors and walls of the suites, that make this show so compelling and cogent. Cy Coleman’s music, woven with elegant, operatic classicism, thanks to Kevin Stites’ music direction, enhances the ambiance, while the Comden-Green book hastens toward New York and the eventual big kiss. Kudos to all.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at