Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Broadway Theater Review: On the Twentieth Century with Kristin Chenoweth

Revival Has Its Whistlestops, but Goes Off Track
By Lauren Yarger
Everyone is all aboard for Kristin Chenoweth as zany Lily Garland in Roundabout Theatre's revival of the Cy Coleman musical On the Twentieth Century.

She has received Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle nominations for the part and probably will win one or all of them. The Broadway darling always draws rave reviews, whether she she is turning in  a stellar performance or not. Actually, people stand and applaud if she just speaks, so the Tonys have tapped her as co-host of the June 7 Tony Awards with Alan Cumming. Her appeal transcends the stage -- she also is the popular star of films ("RV,"  "Four Christmases") and TV ("The West Wing." "Pushing Daisies").

So why wasn't I blown away by her performance in On the Twentieth Century?

Don't get me wrong. She's good. And funny. But I honestly didn't think it was beyond any performance I have seen this season. In fact. Chenoweth didn't look quite well. Somehow strained. So I suppose I'll have to pass it off to her having a bad day, given the glowing accolades she is receiving.

Also not impressing me too much was her leading man, Peter Gallagher, who recently had been out due to voice strain and who sounded as though he hadn't yet had enough rest. The repetitive-sounding Coleman score isn't one of his most exciting either, so overall, I kept waiting for this train to pull out of the station.

The book Book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green (who gave us other classics like Applause and On the Town, which also is enjoying a revival this year on Broadway) are based on  plays by Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur and Bruce Millholland. It tells the 1932 story of characters bound from Chicago to New York aboard the luxury train the Twentieth Century Limited (designed by David Rockwell, who has received a Tony nomination) where theater producer Oscar Jaffee (Gallagher) hopes to convince successful Hollywood actress Garland, whom he discovered when she was boring Mildred Plotka, to star in his new play and save his career.

Lily's attentions are focused on her boy toy, Bruce Granit (Andy Karl, nominated for a Featured Actor Tony), so Oscar enlists the help of Owen O'Malley (Michael McGrath) and Oliver Webb (Mark Linn-Baker), his press agent and business manager, to get Lily to sign a contract. They discover wealthy investor  Leticia Peabody Primrose (Marie Louise Wilson) is on board and get her backing for a show they make up on the spot.

Director Scott Ellis and Choreographer Warren Carlyle move the actors about on board the train, send them into flashback sequences and even throw in some tap dancing. For some reason, a lot of tongues are used and one scene features some kink sexual activity. I thought this was 1932? I do thank Ellis for not having the characters actually light the cigarettes they are holding. (So unnecessary in theater.) Costume Designer William Ivey Long gets it right, with each period costume specifically made for the character and with rich fabrics all working together.

My favorite part was watching Baker and McGrath. They have great on-stage chemistry and lots of comedic chops.

On the Twentieth Century, which is nominated for a Best Revival Tony, has extended its voyage at American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd St., NYC through July 19. Performances are Tuesday - Saturday a t 8 pm; Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday  at 2 pm. Tickets are $67 - $147: http://www.roundabouttheatre.org/.

Christians might als like to know:
-- Sexual activity

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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