On the Twentieth Century

Music by Cy Coleman, book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green

Union Theatre

(2010)

Review by Howard Loxton

Broadway producer/director Oscar Jaffe abandons the cast of his show which has just flopped in Chicago and, with his henchmen press agent Owen and business manager Oliver, escapes his creditors by hopping on the streamlined 20th Century Limited luxury express to New York. Oscar has picked up the information that Hollywood star Lily Garland is aboard, an actress whom he discovered and created and with whom he used to be an item. Can he get her signed up for a new show and relaunch his career after it has nosedived with four flops in succession? Will Lily stick with her Hollywood co-star lover Bruce and plans to work for a successful producer who used to work as an ASM for Oscar?

A couple of compartment doors on wheels are the nearest designer Diego Pitarch gets to the famous art deco train. The sets emphasises the travel theme with steel shelving stacked with luggage and cabin trunks as furniture., but what it lacks in production value glamour is made up for by the pizzazz of the performers and Drew McOnie's choreography and Cy Coleman's tunes.

Howard Samuels and Rebecca Vere make a strong pair as Oscar and Lily, especially in 'Together,' when they recall their former love, and there is excellent support from Chris David Storer and Matt Harrop as Oliver and Owen. Robbie Scotcher makes Bruce one of those faces the camera clearly loves but Lily could twist him round her little finger. Everyone on the train from conductor to doctor seem to be an aspiring playwright, giving cameo opportunities to Mensah Bediako and Virge Gilchrist with 'I've written a play!' but Valda Aviks almost steals the show as the religious nut Letitia Primrose. I loved her, but Ryan McBryde has directed this as a strong ensemble show and she never goes too far.

It's something of an old-style show-biz musical, eve though it dates from the late seventies, and musically can sometimes be quite operatic - there is a delightful sextet when Oscar is trying to get Lily to sign a contract, but it is sometimes difficult to get the wit of Comden and Green's lyrics for the singers are sometimes drowned out by the band - and clarity isn't helped by reflective bare brick walls and using the widest possible acting space at this venue. Perhaps that is why the first act seemed particularly long.- things perked up and the sound balance seemed better after the interval and it really took off.

Run ends 15th January 2011