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|A CurtainUp Review
John Lee Beatty, that master of luxurious stage interiors, has done the memory of the glamorous transcontinental train proud. Its sleek Art Deco cars actually slide and glide so that viewers have a real sense of watching a moving train, which is abetted by ACME Sound Partners. Unfortunately, the high speed look of Beatty's train is deceptive. This Twentieth Century huffs and puffs tediously.
Baldwin and Heche, who apparently had enough box office appeal to extend the show even before its official opening, fail to project the slick sizzle needed to bring Oscar and Lily back to vivid life. Baldwin manages the physical demands of the part despite his surprisingly expanded girth and an odd waddling gait, but not the over-the-top grandiosity the part calls for. Heche's delivers on the physical gesture and her anorexic-thin body looks gorgeous in William Ivey Long's as always stunning costumes. However, she is way too shrill so that her words are often hard to hear. Worse still, the chemistry between the two stars is notable only for its absence.
The second bananas come closer to recapturing the spirit of this depression era silliness. Halston, who has come to own any role calling for an Eve Arden/Audrey Meadows persona is at her acerbic best in the part originally written for a man. Tom Aldredge as the nutty religious millionaire actually succeeds 100% and Stephen DeRosa comes close in the double role of a bearded Passion player and Oscar's nemesis Max Jacobs. Speaking of that passion play, since Ken Ludwig is given credit for newly adapting Hecht and MacArthur's script, you might think that Mel Gibson's over-hyped movie about Jesus Christ prompted Ludwig to cleverly do some last minute tickling to emphasize the timeliness of this subplot. The truth of the matter is that Jaffe's idea for bringing religion to Broadway on a grand scale is merely a bit of playwriting imitating movie making. Ludwig's updating of the original is barely evident; on the contrary, like Walter Bobbie's direction, it seems to add to one's feeling of riding a clunky local train.
Nostalgia fans may enjoy the handsome staging and large cast as reminders of light-hearted old-time Broadway shows as well as some of the still crackling dialogue. Some examples of lines that still resonate include Oscar melodramatically firing Ida with "Out! Out! Out! You traitor! I close the iron door on you!" or Lily's wistful "We're only real between curtains"
Maybe the Roundabout would have been better served with a revival of the very popular musical version, On the Twentieth Century which ran on Broadway for 449 performances and won 5 Tonys. When I last saw this during the Berkshire 2001 summer season it was staged much more modestly but the songs and less well-known cast nevertheless delivered the pizzazz sadly missing from this more elegant and expensive production.
Review of On the Twentieth Century
The 1934 John Barrymore/Carole Lombard movie has become a video golden oldie. For a front row living room viewing, you can get it at our book store. 20th Century the video.
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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