Thursday, February 26, 2015

On the Twentieth Century

All aboard, ladies and gentlemen! The express train to musical theatre heaven is departing the station eight times a week. You can catch it at the American Airlines Theatre, where a sublime revival of On the Twentieth Century, the 1978 operetta by Cy Coleman, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green, is currently in previews. Dazzlingly designed, brilliantly choreographed, and featuring the peerless Kristin Chenoweth in a career-high performance, this shimmering production is sure to leave audiences tap-dancing their way up West 42nd Street when the curtain comes down.
Kristin Chenoweth performing "Veronique"
photo: Joan Marcus
As Lily Garland, the mousy young girl who is transformed--with the help of her former lover, theatre impresario Oscar Jaffe--into the greatest star of stage and screen, Chenoweth has found a role that is perfectly tailored to both her virtuosic vocal gifts and her razor-sharp comic timing. She lands every joke, ably filling shoes once worn by some of the greatest comic actresses of all time (Carole Lombard in the 1934 film, Madeline Kahn in the original Broadway production). Musically, she deploys her pristine soprano to thrilling effect, but she never lets her acrobatic vocal feats quash the comedy of Comden's airtight lyrics. She looks smashing in William Ivey Long's eye-popping gowns, radiating every inch of early Hollywood glamour. Never have I seen this fine actress so well-suited to a role.

At the performance I attended, both of Chenoweth's leading men--Peter Gallagher as Jaffe, and Andy Karl as her celluloid co-star and lover, Bruce Granit--were felled by illness. They were ably spelled by James Moye and Ben Crawford, respectively. If Moye lacks some imperiousness, he makes up for it with clarion singing and comfortable chemistry with Chenoweth. Crawford also sings beautifully, though he could use a few more performances to fully nail the physical comedy required by his role. The rest of the supporting cast--which includes dependable veterans Mary Louise Wilson, Mark-Linn Baker, and Michael McGrath--is largely superb.

This is Chenoweth's moment. There is so much to enjoy in this production, but surely nothing surpasses the instant-classic performance she's giving. It will be talked about for years.

[Fifth row mezzanine. Highly discounted ticket.]

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