Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 8, 2016

On the Twentieth Century

Theatre Guild of Hampden, Wilbraham, MA
through March 13, 2016
by Michael J. Moran

The original Broadway production of “On the Twentieth Century” won five Tony awards in 1978, including best leading actor in a musical, best featured actor in a musical, and best scenic design. David Leslie’s star turn as down-on-his-luck impresario Oscar Jaffe, Gaven Mackie’s priceless boy toy Bruce Granit, and imaginative set design by Josiah Durham and Mark Giza deserve similar awards for their work in TGH’s entertaining production of this over-the-top musical.

Tonys also went to composer Cy Coleman and lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green for best score and to Comden and Green for best book of a musical. Coleman’s inventive fusion of classical operetta with 1930s hot jazz is played with affection and aplomb by the five-piece band strongly led by music director Elisabeth Weber. The sharp wit of his partners’ dialogue and lyrics is delivered with fresh enthusiasm by the entire 27-member cast.

Ally Reardon brings glamorous presence and a lovely singing voice to leading lady Lily Garland, whom Oscar had molded from klutzy piano accompanist Mildred Plotka into a movie star, whom he hopes to lure back to the stage for her “role of a lifetime” as Mary Magdalene. Kevin Wherry and Brad Shepard strike just the right notes of comic exasperation as Oscar’s hapless henchmen in this quest to restore their lost finances. 

As ditsy religious zealot Letitia Peabody Primrose, Kathy Renaud is a hoot, who steals the show every time she comes on stage. Her big first-act number, “Repent,” is the musical highlight of the evening. Devon Bakum is equally hilarious in two smaller roles as an aspiring but hopeless singer and as the doctor on board during the “Twentieth Century” train’s 16-hour trip, where the plot unfolds, from Chicago to New York. 

Special kudos must go to Jared Buteau, Jon Todd, Ian Weber, and Ted Welsh as the four tap-dancing porters who regularly interrupt the action and memorably remind the audience in their own big musical number that “Life Is Like a Train,” to choreographer Kathleen Delaney for her delightfully zany work, and to director Giza for his firm but loving hand.