On The Twentieth Century

See Also:

On The Twentieth Century Libretto: Act One

On The Twentieth Century Libretto: Act Two

Recordings I own

Background Information

On The Twentieth Century is an award-winning 1978 musical which may well be one of the most enjoyable and clever scores conceived for the Broadway stage. The show's book and lyrics were written by the indomitable team of Adolph Green and Betty Comden, with the music written by Cy Coleman.

The show is a screwball comedy mixed with a mock operetta feel, all set aboard the luxurious locomotive train "The Twentieth Century", as it soars from Chicago to New York in the 1930s. Temperemental film star Lily Garland is unexpectedly reunited with her former mentor and lover Oscar Jaffee, a theater impresario who is determined to win her back - both personally and professionally. A full synopsis can be found at Wikipedia's page

On The Twentieth Century was based on a play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, which was also adapted in 1934 into a film by Howard Hawks called Twentieth Century.

The original production was directed by Harold Prince, choreographed by Larry Fuller and featured a stunning set by Robin Wanger. After previews in Boston, the show opened at the St. James Theatre on Broadway on February 19, 1978. The original cast was as follows:

Lily Garland - Madeline Kahn
Oscar Jaffee - John Cullum
Letitia Primrose - Imogene Coca
Max Jacobs - George Lee Andrews
Owen O'Malley - George Coe
Oliver Webb - Dean Dittamn
Bruce Granit - Kevin Kline
Conductor Flanagan - Tom Batten
Imelda Thornton/Dr. Johnson - Willi Burke
Agnes - Judy Kaye
Congressman Lockwood - Rufus Smith

While initial reviews were mixed, the show was nominated for 9 Tonys (winning for Best Book, Best Score, Best Scenic Design, as well as awards for Cullum and Kline), and five Drama Desk Awards (of which it won four: Costume Design, Set Design, Music and another for Kline).

The cast album was recorded two weeks after opening, and captured most of the music from the production. Throughout the first two months of the run, Madeline Kahn missed several performances and it was understood behind the scenes that she was struggling to keep the frantic energy of the role every night. By mid-April, Kahn's understudy Judy Kaye - who had reluctantly accepted the very minor role of Lily's maid Agnes - was routinely filling in. Kahn played her last show on April 24. Publicly, the reason given for her departure was damage to her vocal chords. Truthfully, it appears that she came to a mutual agreement with the producers that it was best for her to step down. Kaye soared to prominence thanks to the role, being nominated for a Drama Desk Award and winning a Theatre World Award. Although Kahn would go on to be seen as one of the great comic film actresses of the late 20th century, her theatre career never recovered.

The show closed in 1979 after more than 400 performances. Kaye and Coca remained onboard for the national tour, alongside Rock Hudson as Oscar. In 1986, the two women would again take the show on tour. The Original British production starred Julia McKenzie in 1980.

For no particular reason, the show has never been revived although it is regularly performed around the world. On September 26, 2005 a one-night-only revival concert was held, starring Marin Mazzie.

At the top of the page you will see links to my lyrics for the show's songs, as well as a synopsis alongside. One day I may post the entire libretto!

Contact me: the_rebel_prince AT hotmail.com

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