A Revival of a Screwball Musical Comedy
On March 15, 2015, On the Twentieth Century played its opening night performance at the American Airlines Theatre. Produced by the Roundabout Theatre Company, this musical is a revival of the original produced in 1978, which in turn was based off a play from 1932 by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, which was based off an unpublished by Charles Bruce Millholland. Furthermore, a film entitled Twentieth Century was released in 1934 based off the Hecht and MacArthur play. This musical has book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green (Singin’ in the Rain, Bells are Ringing, Wonderful Town), and a score by Cy Coleman (Sweet Charity, City of Angels, The Will Rogers Follies, Barnum). Following its 1978 Broadway run, the show won the Tony Award for Best Book as well as the Tony Award for Best Original Score, and then transferred to the West End in 1980. With the exception of a smaller London production in 2010, this is the first major revival. Directed by Scott Ellis and choreographed by Warren Carlyle, the musical stars Kristin Chenoweth, Peter Gallagher, Mary-Louise Wilson, Michael McGrath, Andy Karl, and Mark Linn-Baker.
The reviews are in, and critics are generally laudatory of this production. Ben Brantley wore none of his sometime cynicism in writing that he was on cloud nine following this performance, praising the “over-the-moon” acting which is a level above over-acting. In this case, he believes the extravagant performances by Chenoweth and Gallagher, among others, served the material brilliantly, and furthermore he was delighted to see a musical revival that isn’t revived very often, in this case for the first time. Joe Dziemianowicz calls the show Broadway musical bliss, delighting in everything from David Rockwell’s art deco set of the locomotive train, to Chenoweth’s dynamite comedy and voice. Frank Scheck from the New York Post delights in the fact that they don’t make musicals, or write dialogue, like this anymore, and likewise calls the show theatrical bliss. Jesse Green in Vulture calls the revival delicious, acknowledging that there are a million reasons why the show shouldn’t work today, but that Chenoweth above all makes those reasons fall to the wayside, as the role of Lily Garland is perfectly suited to her natural gifts. David Rooney of The Hollywood Report was more on the fence, deeming that Scott Ellis is off his game and that the mock operetta style becomes tedious to watch.
Mediocre Box Office Performance
Despite these largely positive reviews, the show is still struggling at the box office. This is not surprising, because most of these critical responses were extravagantly positive especially because they did not expect to like it. The show’s title, description, and appearance seem to make it very dated, and this makes it a difficult sell at the box office. It doesn’t matter that the show defies expectations, because you have to buy a ticket to find that out. In the full week of performances following the release of these reviews, the show’s weekly gross went up by only $75,479, bringing it to a gross of $466,078 across eight performances. This is only 56.69% of the week’s gross potential. Still, the Roundabout is managing to fill many of its seats, as the show did average over 100% of audience capacity in the last two weeks. However, with a top ticket price of $229.00, the average paid admission was $80.30, showing a heavy amount of discounting. Fortunately, the Roundabout is equipped to handle these numbers as a not-for-profit theatre company.