Mark Jacoby and Donna English play showbiz lovers and sparring partners Oscar and Lily for the Goodspeed Opera House revival of On the Twentieth Century, opening April 30 after April 9-29 previews in East Haddam, CT. Performances continue to July 3.
The 1978 Betty Comden-Adolph Green-Cy Coleman musical retells the story of an egomaniacal -- and broke -- stage producer, Oscar Jaffee, who woos his onetime protégé-lover, Lily Garland, away from Hollywood and back to Broadway. The setting of the musical, based on Hecht and MacArthur's Twentieth Century, is the famed New York Central Railroad liner, racing from Chicago to New York.
The original 1978 staging from director Harold Prince featured a glistening art deco scenic design by Robin Wagner. Musical theater buffs love the score for its daffy, consistent comic opera quality and such songs as "She's a Nut," "Five Zeros," "Veronique," "Our Private World," "Sign" and "Life Is Like a Train."
Goodspeed, the nonprofit that nurtured Annie, regularly produces revivals of rare or lesser-known shows, luring Broadway talent like Jacoby, who created the role of Father in Ragtime.
Jacoby also played Gaylord Ravenal in the Harold Prince revival of Show Boat and the title role in The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway for two and a half years. English appeared in Goodspeed's 1993 staging of On the Town, in George Abbott's Broadway on Broadway, and in Forbidden Broadway Strikes Back! and Ruthless Off-Broadway.
Ted Pappas directs On the Twentieth Century; Peggy Hickey choreographs; Michael O'Flaherty is musical director.
Designers are James Noone (sets), David Woolard (costumes) and David F. Segal (lighting). Orchestrations for the faux-Offenbach score by Coleman are by Christopher Jahnke.
The cast of 21 includes Tony Lawson (Beauty and the Beast tour) as Lily's movie star lover, Bruce Granit, Michael McCormick (Kiss of the Spider Woman) and Peter Van Wagner as Oscar's doormat colleagues Owen and Oliver and Jan Neuberger (Miss Watson of Big) as Letitia, the rich religious zealot who promises to produce Oscar's extravagant new production about the life of Mary Magadelene.
Marc Kudisch, originally announced as Bruce, dropped out due to a family emergency.
A rare full-out musical comedy for director Prince in a period punctuated by his more serious-minded Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music, Evita and Follies, On the Twentieth Century is a cult favorite but is not widely known, despite its national tour starring Rock Hudson and its Tony Award-winning book and score.
The original Broadway production is remembered for Wagner's clever, glittery scenic design (a small electric train ran across the stage against a night backdrop to create a cinematic long shot) and its breakout, Tony Award-winning performance by a young Kevin Kline, as a rival of producer Oscar Jaffee (played by Tony-winner John Cullum).
Madeline Kahn played the original Lily but left the show early in the run to be replaced by then-newcomer Judy Kaye in one of the great starmaking roles in recent history. Kaye's professional life blossomed after that, leading to a Tony Award for her portrayal of Carlotta in The Phantom of the Opera. Kaye, coincidentally, shared the Ragtime stage with Jacoby, playing Emma Goldman.
Other shows in Goodspeed's season are: No, No, Nanette (July 9-Oct. 2) and the new musical, Glimmerglass (Oct. 8-Dec. 19).
On the Twentieth Century tickets are $20-$43. For Goodspeed information, call (860) 873-8668.
-- By Kenneth Jones