The word is out. It didn’t arrive in town with much hoopla, most thought “another revival of a relic from the past” so it fooled even the vast ticket buying public, but the fact is the Roundabout’s new version of On the Twentieth Century is a welcome and proper part of “Hello, Spring!” From top to bottom, it’s been lovingly cast, and staged by Director Scott Ellis and Choreographer Warren Carlyle, Music Director Kevin Stites, with an assist from Jim Carnahan and his Roundabout Casting elves who seem to know how to attract every first-rate performer in town.
So let’s begin with those, from the smaller roles on up. The four tap dancing porters begin the festivities, and happily return again and again, always newly and neatly refurbished to spread a little sunshine. There is tall, toothy and very capable Paula Leggett Chase who proves useful all evening long; each time her presence drew me as she sashayed round the stage, she seemed to be saying “Isn’t this fun?.” She served well too as the grand dame whose need of an accompanist gave Kristin Chenoweth an entrance that landed with a laugh. More of that later. But all of the “boys and girls” in this joyous romp played it as though the ghosts of Bob Fosse and Michael Bennett were out front and watching their every move, so they made every one count.
When needed, the low comics were rolled on, and you won’t find a finer three anywhere than Mary Louise Wilson, Michael McGrath, and Mark Linn-Baker. If you need reminders, Ms. Wilson was astonishing in Grey Gardens, Mr. Baker most recently was prominently into family life in the currently running You Can’t Take It With You, and one of Mr. McGrath’s recent tasks had him virtually stealing the show from the two stars as he dueted with another great, Judy Kaye, in Nice Work If You Can Get It.
And once Kristin Chenoweth hilariously transforms from a lowly piano accompanist into a major motion picture hottie called “Lily Garland,” out from under a loose garment or some hand luggage appears “Bruce Granit,” her recent leading man and co-star. Ham to the bone, Andy Karl, who plays him, does everything including climb the walls to keep his composure and fight to maintain his place in the sun. He’s a hunk, that’s all he is, but he knows how to use what he has. His prime competition is Peter Gallagher, who once upon a time had a long relationship with Garland as her producer, director and mentor. It’s been over for years, but there are embers, and he’s determined to win her back to save his financial hide, convinced as he usually is, that this return to his side will save her soul as well.
The Cy Coleman score with book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green is at the top of their form, and will do just fine. This is a farce, so there’s not a lot of depth here, but a comedy number like “Repent” for Ms. Wilson does almost as much for her and the show as “The Boston Beguine” did for Alice Ghostley in New Faces of 1952.
Ms. Chenoweth has been stopping shows for years, and this score gives her several arias that give flight to her exquisite lyric soprano. She’s clippped and clean with her lyrics as well. It’s the best role she’s had and she’s bitten into it like a sex-starved cobra; a funny one.
David Rockwell and William Ivey Long have made the 20th Century train from New York to Los Angeles, a week long lockup which was the mode for fancy travel in the early 1930s. If you want to see how insanely buoyant a voyage like that could once have been, climb aboard. Madness reigns eight times a week at the American Airlines Theatre. All aboard!!