Friday, March 20, 2015

Kristin Chenoweth: Back on Broadway in "On the Twentieth Century"

     I saw The Kristin Chenoweth Show at the American Airlines Theatre last night and was mesmerized by every movement, facial expression and note from the tiny star.   She’s better than ever, and that’s saying a great deal.

     Oh, wait a minute.  I got that wrong.  Actually, I saw the Broadway revival of On the Twentieth CenturyChenoweth is just so magnetic that even with the first-rate cast, shimmering costumes and art deco sets that fill the stage, she is the center of the universe in this madcap musical, directed by Scott Ellis for the Roundabout Theatre Company.

     It’s Chenoweth’s show all right, even though the main story is about another character, Oscar Jaffee (played with energy and great humor by Peter Gallagher), a down-on-his-luck producer looking for a hit to revive his career.  He believes he can be on top again by luring his former lover and protégée Lily Garland (Chenoweth’s character) back to Broadway from Hollywood where she has become a big star.  The action takes place on a Chicago to New York train, the Twentieth Century.

     Chenoweth’s timing is impeccable and she uses her 4’ 11” body in hilarious ways.  I loved seeing her lying like a board across the arms of her current lover, Bruce Granit (a hilarious Andy Karl), an young actor obsessed with his image — he slaps multiple copies of his headshot up on the walls of the train compartment — and his well-sculpted body.  Lily’s in -- on -- his arms for a reason — he lifts her up and down to do his bicep curls.  When he does his pushups, she sits on his back.  It’s a visual delight, precisely choreographed, as is the whole show, by Warren Carlyle. 

     Then, of course, there’s her singing.  The music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green (both of whom also wrote the book) give her ample opportunity to exercise her operatic chops.  I’m so glad she’s been lured back to Broadway from Hollywood, where she’s made some really lame comedies, not at all worthy of her gifts.

     The songs are upbeat, although only the title song sticks with me.  David Rockwell’s sets, William Ivey Long’s costumes and Donald Holder’s lighting do stay with me.  They and everyone onstage have created a shiny gem of a show.  I wish I could go back.

     A shoutout also needs to go to Rick Faugno, Richard Riaz Yoder, Phillip Attmore and Drew King as the tap-dancing porters and Mary Louise Wilson as a batty old woman who offers to bankroll Oscar’s next show.

     On the Twentieth Century will only be in the station on Broadway through July 5.  Hop aboard it you can.  The ride is bliss.

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