Friday, March 06, 2015

On the 20th Century

Yup, I'm with Cameron on this one.

The Roundabout's revival of On the 20th Century, currently in previews, is delightful in its embrace of a whole mess of contradictions. The cast is having a loose, giggly, slapsticky good time, which doesn't mean that they aren't, to a one, professional as hell. The show itself is pretty dumb. But it's also so fast-paced, charming, and sharply staged that you won't bother to think about how many holes there are in the plot until well after you've left the theater.

And even then, seriously, who cares when there are four totally awesome tap-dancing porters who introduce and conclude the acts? Or when Mark Linn-Baker does a truly brilliant spit-take in the second act? Or when Andy Karl, late of Rocky fame, gets smashed repeatedly behind a door? Or when he uses Kristin Chenoweth as a human barbell? This show is comedy gold, people. COMEDY GOLD.

Peter Gallagher is still not back on stage, though when he is, I am sure he, too, will contribute to the overall madcap grooviness of this revival. Gallagher's understudy, James Moye, is not as chiseled or as glib as Gallagher can be, but he sounded terrific, and infused the role of Oscar Jaffe with a fine mix of clueless arrogance, melodrama and desperation. And as Letitia Primrose, Mary-Louise Wilson is a titch understated in act I, but then, as a result, the revelations about her character, revealed in a riveting extended ensemble number in act II, are that much more enjoyable.

Then, of course, there's Kristin Chenoweth, who is her own wonderful mess of contradictions: she's a teeny, tiny, classically beautiful woman with an absolute monster of a voice and seemingly no hangups about looking totally ridiculous when the role calls for it. As a result of her disarming goofiness, she comes across as warmer and less intimidating than some of her contemporaries; this quality is milked to great effect during a showstopper in act I, where she brings the house down just by looking out at it. Chenoweth's a great physical comedian with notably good timing, and in this case, she's working with a whole bunch of people for whom I might say the same.

On the 20th Century is hardly the deepest or most layered thing you'll see in your life--or even, probably, during the course of the day you see it. But the cast and company know that, and they don't give a rat's ass. They just want to have a good time while they're traveling on the train between Chicago and New York--and to get you to elicit a couple of genuine belly laughs as you sit back and watch them go. 

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