BWW Review: ON THE 20TH CENTURY Rolls Into the Davis Shakespeare Festival
Like its locomotive namesake, On the 20th Century reaches out to transport you to a different destination. Although, instead of Chicago or New York, you'll be going to a place of laughter, awe and all-consuming fun. This operetta opened on Broadway in 1978, winning 5 Tony Awards, and was revived in 2015 with Kristin Chenoweth as the glamorous Lily Garland. Now it makes its way to the 9th season of the Davis Shakespeare Festival for those lucky enough to get on board.
This tale takes place on the 20th Century Limited, a passenger train that ran from 1902 through 1967 and was billed as, "The Most Famous Train in the World." Our rakishly arrogant leading man, producer Oscar Jaffee, has exactly 16 hours to save himself from professional doom. Ruined by a string of flops and hounded by creditors, Oscar has come up with a plan that only the most desperate can hatch. On the same train is his protege, Lily Garland. He transformed her from a mousy, forgettable wisp to a bona fide femme fatale. After a whirlwind romance and disastrous parting, they are no longer on speaking terms. He must convince her to lend her stardom to his new, as yet unwritten, play, in order to catapult himself back into relevancy.
On the journey we also encounter a religious zealot, a jealous lover, and a competing producer, among others. Blending opera, farce, and the charm of the 1930s works in this production because of the talented cast behind the characters keeping the show on track. Devilish and debonair describes Christopher Ryan, who brings Broadway tour experience to this Oscar Jaffee. Sharon Rietkerk (also playing Queen Mary in Mary Stuart) is the perfect coloratura for such a complex vocal role as Lily Garland. She shows off her talent and experience in such numbers as "Veronique," "Indian Maiden's Lament," and "I've Got it All." The sleeper star in the show, however, is crazy Letitia Primrose, the above-mentioned religious zealot who is compelled to haunt everyone on the train until they repent for their sins. Played by Robin FIsher (Professor of Voice at CSUS), Letitia is a delight in "Repent" and the subject of the show's most memorable song, "She's a Nut."
Rounded out by gorgeous costumes, a cleverly functional set, and a strong ensemble, On the 20th Century makes for a fresh and fun complement to its running mate, Mary Stuart. On the 20th Century is at the Davis Shakespeare Festival through August 5. Tickets may be purchased at www.ShakespeareDavis.org.
Photo Credit: Yarcenia Garcia