On the Twentieth Century

Screwball Comedy and On the Twentieth Century

Posted on: May 1st, 2015 by Roundabout


OTC-0010M-StandardArtFiles-300x300px-v3With On the Twentieth Century in full swing at the American Airlines Theatre, we take a look at the genre and history of screwball comedy.

Howard Hawks’ 1934 film Twentieth Century featured American stage actor John Barrymore as Oscar Jaffee and a breakout comic performance by Carole Lombard as Lily Garland. Many historians identify this film as the first example of “screwball comedy,” a genre of escapist entertainment popular during the Great Depression and through the 1940s. Some of the most famous screwball titles include Frank Capra’s Academy Award ® winner, It Happened One Night (1934), Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby (1938), and Preston SturgesThe Lady Eve (1941).

In 1930, Hollywood came under the scrutiny of the Hays Code, which imposed firm moral guidelines and restricted how movies could portray sex, crime, drugs, and religion. Screwball emerged as a creative response to the Code, and directors like Hawks, Capra, and Sturges made increased use of innuendo and subtext to create sexual tension. Screwball employed physical comedy, like slapstick and farce, but also featured witty dialogue and sophisticated, upper-class characters. Depression-era audiences welcomed the opportunity to watch the wealthy and privileged behaving with comic lunacy.

Screwball storylines drew upon comedic conventions such as mistaken identity, improbable plot twists, and a battle-of- the-sexes between a mismatched romantic couple. Typically, the male hero lived an ordinary life before meeting a strong woman, often from a higher socioeconomic status, who disrupted his status quo. Hero and heroine were thrown together into a series of comedic adventures, frequently traveling by train, boat, or car. Despite their differences and conflicts, the couple usually fell in love and married in the final scene. Though many of these elements are still seen in contemporary romantic comedies, the term “screwball” denotes a specific group of films produced in the ‘30s and ‘40s.

Twentieth Century established Carole Lombard as one of the great comedy stars of her time. Other popular stars who performed in screwball comedies include Katharine Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck, Claudette Colbert, Myrna Loy, Ginger Rogers, Cary Grant, and two of Lombard’s off-screen husbands, William Powell and Clark Gable.


The character of the fanatical millionaire in On the Twentieth Century, Letitia Primrose, originated by Imogene Coca, was adapted for the musical from the play and film versions, where the character is a man named Matthew J. Wright, played by Etienne Giradot. Giradot, a small, birdlike character actor of Anglo-French parentage, was the only cast member of the original Twentieth Century stage production to appear in the film. Howard Hawks had to be careful with this character and religious jokes, as the Hays Code forbid the ridicule of religion. Joseph Breen, who ran the Hays Office, was most concerned about how audiences would respond to the comic use of Jaffee’s Passion Play, but with the exception of one line, he allowed Hawks to use most of the script. To see Etienne Giradot and the religious jokes that made it past the Hays Office, watch this clip:


On the Twentieth Century plays on Broadway through July 19. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2014-2015 Season, Education @ Roundabout, On the Twentieth Century, Upstage

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On the Twentieth Century Cast Recording

Posted on: March 23rd, 2015 by Roundabout


OTC-0010M-StandardArtFiles-300x300px-v3We are thrilled to announce that PS Classics will record the cast album of the critically acclaimed Broadway revival of On the Twentieth Century on Monday, March 23, 2015.

This new Broadway Cast Recording will be released on May 19, 2015. The production is currently playing at the American Airlines Theatre through July 19, 2015.

The album will be available for pre‐order at the PS Classics website,, starting on Wednesday, March 25.

On the Twentieth Century reunites Roundabout Theatre Company with PS Classics co‐founder & album producer Tommy Krasker, following the recording of the Tony Award‐nominated revival of Violet last season.

Tommy also helmed the Grammy‐nominated cast albums of Roundabout’s productions of Nine, Assassins and Sondheim on Sondheim. This album marks the eighth collaboration between Roundabout Theatre Company and PS Classics. This album is made possible in part through the generosity of Elizabeth Armstrong and Ted and Mary Jo Shen.

On the Twentieth Century plays on Broadway through July 19. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.


Related Categories:
2014-2015 Season, On the Twentieth Century

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On the Twentieth Century opens on Broadway

Posted on: March 19th, 2015 by Roundabout


Our production of On the Twentieth Century opened on Sunday, March 15 to widespread critical acclaim.

Here’s what the critics had to say:

‘On the Twentieth Century,’ With Kristin Chenoweth, Opens on Broadway
By Ben Brantley
“In the theater, there is overacting, which is common and painful to watch. Then there’s over‐the‐moon acting, which is rare and occupies its own special cloud land in heaven. I am delighted to report that this latter art is being practiced in altitudinous‐high style at the American Airlines Theater, where Kristin Chenoweth and Peter Gallagher are surfing the stratosphere in “On the Twentieth Century.”


‘On the 20th Century’ with Kristin Chenoweth, Peter Gallagher
By Marilyn Stasio
“Scott Ellis’s dazzling production of “On the Twentieth Century” looks like one of those legendary Broadway musicals that exists largely in our collective memory of great shows we never saw. Like those phantom productions, this 1978 tuner comes with a fine pedigree (book & lyrics by Comden & Green, music by Cy Coleman), has been mounted in high style and is performed with manic energy by a super cast toplined by charismatic stars Kristen Chenoweth and Peter Gallagher. For a lot of us, this is the show of our dreams.”


Chenoweth Soars in Manic On the Twentieth Century
By Jennifer Farrar
“The effervescent revival of the 1978 musical comedy "On the Twentieth Century" that just steamed into the American Airlines Theatre marks a bewitching Broadway return for Tony‐ and Emmy Award‐winner Kristen Chenoweth as 1930s Hollywood diva Lily Garland. The Roundabout Theatre production that opened Sunday night is a sizzling, sumptuous entertainment that pairs Chenoweth with a suavely roguish Peter Gallagher. Chenoweth is a petite powerhouse in the prima donna role of Lily, originated on Broadway by Madeline Kahn.”


Kristin Chenoweth, Andy Karl and Peter Gallagher in On the 20th Century. Photo by Joan Marcus.


‘Century' a Grand Vehicle for Chenoweth
By Elysa Gardner
“When the Cy Coleman/Betty Comden/Adolph Green musical On the Twentieth Century opened on Broadway in February 1978, Kristin Chenoweth was not yet 10 years old. Yet you could easily mistake Roundabout Theatre Company's fizzy, fabulous new revival as a custom Chenoweth vehicle, tailor‐made to accommodate her unique combination of talents. Chenoweth brings to Lily, along with those requisites, the girlish goofiness, feline sexuality and gleaming, chirping soprano that have made her one of her generation's most distinctive musical theater talents. At 46, Chenoweth lends both an ingenue's exuberance and a knowing wit to production numbers that require her to juggle virtual arias with hyperkinetic dance routines.”


On the Twentieth Century: EW review
By Jason Clark
“In a recent interview, Kristin Chenoweth revealed that a voice teacher told her 15 years ago she’d eventually play the frumpy accompanist‐turned‐glamorous A‐lister Lily Garland in the madcap musical On the Twentieth Century. After witnessing Chenoweth’s supreme triumph in Roundabout Theatre Company’s ultimate chase‐the‐blues‐away confection currently playing at the American Airlines Theatre, all one can say is God bless that voice teacher. The high‐energy tale of a luxury train making a cross‐country trip with a bevy of eccentric showbiz types, including former collaborators/lovers Lily Garland and Oscar Jaffee (Peter Gallagher), is a veritable dais for the abilities of Broadway’s choicest clowns; it’s hard to remember a recent production in which the cast was so uniquely suited to each and every role.


'On the Twentieth Century' review: Revival glitters
By Linda Winer
“Where has "On the Twentieth Century" been for the last 37 years? If, indeed, the 1978 musical‐comedy has been saving itself for just the right mad screwball alchemy, then, all right, this was worth the wait. Ego, love and the lovingly egomaniacal theatricality of theater people are the subjects of the Roundabout Theatre Company's breathlessly charming revival of a show about which, I admit, I never before have felt the slightest bit bonkers. But the real subject of director Scott Ellis' production is expertise. From the virtuosic, wildly endearing Peter Gallagher as fading Broadway director Oscar Jaffe and the equally dazzling Kristin Chenoweth as movie queen Lily Garland through every supporting cast member, the show builds respect ‐‐ showstopper by showstopper ‐‐ for Cy Coleman's terrifically demanding operetta‐and‐jazz‐inspired music and for some of the most clever lyrics ever written by that cleverness machine, Betty Comden and Adolph Green.”


Company of On the 20th Century. Photo by Joan Marcus.


‘On the Twentieth Century to theatrical bliss'
By Frank Scheck
“They don’t write dialogue like this anymore,” a producer says, leafing through the Bible in “On the Twentieth Century.” And they don’t write musical comedies like this anymore, either. Gloriously revived by the Roundabout Theatre Company, this 1978 musical — now with sparkling turns by Kristin Chenoweth and Peter Gallagher — is a fast‐paced romp. Set entirely on the 20th Century Limited train from Chicago to New York, the show — music by Cy Coleman, book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green — barrels down the tracks to theatrical bliss. Buy your tickets before the train leaves the station.”


On the Twentieth Century
By Adam Feldman
“On the Twentieth Century is set on a high‐speed 1930s luxury train from Chicago to New York, and it’s the vehicle Kristin Chenoweth has been waiting for all her life. La Cheno is one of the great Broadway stars of our time, but she has never had a role that cast so bright and sustained a light on her multifaceted talents, and the resulting shine is dazzling. All the powers stuffed into her tiny frame—the huge voice that rises from kazoo to coloratura soprano, the brash look‐at‐me confidence, the Carol Channing–esque precision clowning—are harnessed to propel the show forward. She’s the little engine that could do anything.”


Mary Louise Wilson, Drew King, Richard Riaz Yoder, Phillip Attmore & Rick Faugno. in On the 20th Century. Photo by Joan Marcus

On the Twentieth Century review: Kristin Chenoweth the engine of a blissful Broadway revival
By Joe Dziemianowicz
“Next stop, Broadway musical bliss. That’s where the Roundabout revival of “On the Twentieth Century, directed with verve by Scott Ellis, takes you. The setting for this fast‐paced, flab‐free screwball operetta by Cy Coleman, Betty Comden and Adolph Green is a luxury coach en route from Chicago to New York in the 1930s. The stylish state‐of‐the‐art locomotive by David Rockwell gleams in brilliant Art Deco glory. But that’s nothing compared to the practically nuclear glow that comes off Kristin Chenoweth, whose singular talent and skills are tailor‐made for a role originated on Broadway in 1978 by Madeline Kahn.”


Theater Review: On the Twentieth Century
By Robert Feldberg
“In "On the Twentieth Century," which opened Sunday at the Roundabout's American Airlines Theatre, a star is reborn. Kristin Chenoweth, who established her career on Broadway but hasn't had a real impact there since "Wicked" in 2002, returns in what's probably her most entertaining performance yet. Playing the impossibly self‐centered '30s movie star Lily Garland, in the altogether delightful revival of the 1979 musical, she reminds us that, besides having a great soprano voice, she's the funniest leading lady around. Using her distinctive high‐pitched speaking voice — little‐girl mixed with brass — as a deadpan comic weapon, she cavorts buoyantly through the show, as nimble physically as she is verbally.”

On the 20th Century plays at the American Airlines Theatre through July 19. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2014-2015 Season, On the Twentieth Century

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