“On the Twentieth Century” Begins Previews

A Roundabout Production at the American Airlines Theatre

on the twentieth centuryOn February 13, 2015, On the Twentieth Century begins previews at the American Airlines Theatre. Produced by the non-for-profit Broadway and Off-Broadway powerhouse Roundabout Theatre Company, this revival marks the third Broadway production of the musical. With book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and music by Cy Coleman, it first premiered in 1978, directed by Harold Prince. The 2015 revival is directed by Scott Ellis, who has recently helmed such works as The Elephant Man, You Can’t Take It With You, Harvey, Curtains, and The Little Dog Laughed. He is also the Roundabout Adams Associate Artistic Director, and has been nominated for six Tony Awards. Opening night is scheduled for March 12, 2015, and it is scheduled to be a limited engagement that closes on July 5, 2015. If it is successful, it may extend through the end of summer.

Cast and Creative Team

The musical stars Kristin Chenoweth, who is well known for being the original Glinda in Wicked (Tony kristin chenowethnomination), has won a Tony Award for her performance of Sally Brown in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, and who has also branched into television with such shows as The West Wing and Pushing Daisies. Alongside Chenoweth will be Peter Gallagher (The Country Girl, Noises Off, “the O.C.”, “American Beauty”), Andy Karl (Rocky Balboa in Rocky the Musical), Mark Linn-Baker (Relatively Speaking, Losing Louie), Michael McGrath (Tony Award winner for Nice Work if You Can Get It), and Mary Louise Wilson (The Women, Cabaret, The Importance of Being Earnest). The choreographer is Warren Carlyle, who won a Tony Award for his choreography for After Midnight, which he also directed). Scenic design is by David Rockwell, lighting is by Donald Holder, sound design is by Jon Weston, and costume design is by William Ivey Long. The musical director is Kevin Stites, and orchestrations are by Larry Hochman, with dance arrangements and incidental music by David Krane.

The Twentieth Century: A Luxury Train

The musical’s title refers to being aboard a luxury train called the Twentieth Century, which is traveling from Chicago to New York. The business aboard the train is, not coincidentally, the theatre business. A temperamental actress named Lily Garland (Kristin Chenoweth) is at odds with her flailing producer named Oscar Jaffee (Peter Gallagher). He is at once trying to woo her romantically, and at the same time to play the lead part in his upcoming show, which has not yet been written. The musical is a screwball comedy, with elements of farce as well as operetta. The musical is based on a straight play of the same name from 1932, written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, which was turned into a film in 1934 called Twentieth Century directed by Howard Hawks. To complicate the matter, Hecht and MacArthur based their play on an unproduced work by Charles Bruce Millholland called Napoleon of Broadway, which is based on his real life experiences with the legendary producer David Belasco, who left his name to the theatre on 44th Street, where Hedwig and the Angry Inch is now playing.

“After Midnight” To Close on June 29

Tony Nomination Not Enough To Sustain Sales

Though it was nominated for this year’s Tony Award for Best Musical, After Midnight has just announced that it will play its final performance on June 29, 2014.  This date also marks the conclusion of guest star Patti LaBelle’s run in the show.  Having begun performances on October 18, 2013, it opened on November 3, 2013.  It will close having played 18 preview performances and 271 regular performances, after only eight months.  The producers were attempting to close for only a temporary hiatus over the July 4th holiday weekend, as they already had extremely high profile guest stars lined up for upcoming slots, including Gladys Knight and Natalie Cole.  However, it turned out to be impossible for all the unions to agree on this temporary shutdown, and therefore the show was forced to terminate its Broadway run.  However, a national tour is in the works.

After Midnight Broadway MusicalWith selected text by Langston Hughes, conceived by frequent producer Jack Viertel, and directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle, the musical starred Fantasia Barrino with guest stars including Patti LaBelle, Toni Braxton, and Vanessa Williams.  Taking place in the Jazz Age, this musical revue celebrates Duke Ellington’s years at the Cotton Club performed by a band of 17 musicians hand-picked by Wynton Marsalis.  Not only did the show receive a Tony Award nomination, but it was further honored by having its director, Warren Carlyle, choreograph Hugh Jackman’s opening number at the Awards.  However, of the seven nominations which it received, it left with only one win: that for Carlyle for Best Choreographer.  It also took home the Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Choreography and Outstanding Revue, and it also won four 2014 Astaire Awards and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Choreography.

Lackluster Sales Throughout Its Run

Despite this awards recognition, its box office performance was at best mediocre.  Its highest ever weekly gross was $714,663, which was still only 71.80% of its gross potential, but it generally grossed between $500 to $650,000 each week.  The top ticket for this musical was $197.00, which is low compared to most other shows’ premium ticket prices.  Its capitalization was low for a musical of this scale, only $7 million; however, it will still close at a loss.  Though it was a major coup for the show to receive a Tony Awards nomination for Best Musical, the lackluster sales did not greatly improve in the weeks leading up to the ceremony.  Though it is impossible to know whether a win for Best Musical would have greatly increased sales or allowed the show to remain open, it is clear that losing that award was the final blow to persuade producers the run could not go on.

A National Tour Is In The Works

In any event, the show was one of the most highly reviewed shows of the 2013-2014 season, and there are likely many theatregoers from around the country who are disappointed they will not have the chance to see it on their New York vacations.  However, with a national tour almost certainly to take place, these audiences will fortunately have their chance to see the show after all.