ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY: High-Speed Comedy at Cygnet Theatre

[ 0 ] April 20, 2017 |

by lisa lipsey – 

“All aboard!”

Enjoy a night of old Hollywood, paired with one train and a double dose of a Tony Award-winning musical (1978 winner for best book and best original score), as On the Twentieth Century departs from Old Town’s Cygnet Theatre all month long. It’s a show that has deep roots: From the original 1930s film, to the late ‘70s hit Broadway production, to a revival in 2015 with Kristin Chenoweth. Of their production Murray says, “We definitely took our inspiration from the film with John Barrymore and Carole Lombard.”

Artistic Director Sean Murray serves as conductor of this madcap, musical comedy train ride and bringing it to Cygnet satisfies a long-time dream. “I first discovered On the 20th Century when the original production played in New York in the ‘70s. I was in high school and my theatre classmates and I loved the soundtrack so much, that we sang along to it at our cast parties. We went up to Los Angeles to see the national tour production and fell in love with it.”

Having the genre label of “madcap musical comedy,” guarantees it will be a silly, good time, but also begs the question: Is it more slapstick like Singin’ In The Rain? Or more Shakespearean/A Comedy of Errors, with misunderstandings and off-timing? “Definitely more in line with Singin’ In The Rain, a very apt comparison,” says Murray. “The film is set in the motion picture industry of the 1920s, where the stakes are very high, the egos are very large, the miscommunications and mistaken identities are very big.”

The challenge with this show is depicting the train, particularly for Cygnet’s intimate theatre. “I’ve always wanted to find a way to put the play on our stage. The challenge being, that the leading role is a famous, luxury train. So, the question was, how to get that train on stage,” offered Murray. “We looked back to the original version of the show and realized that the play took place on a single set that represented three traveling cars and took our cues from that. We then added a layer of video and graphics above the stage to help create the atmosphere and ambience of the luxury train.”

“This musical is a classic example of a great Broadway musical. A musical of this caliber is a rare one and for those who really love great classics, this one definitely ranks up there.”

Get ready for both flashy and plain, Murray notes, “The play takes place in 1933, but there are several flashbacks to when Oscar Jaffe and Lily Garland meet, so there are ‘20s costumes, as well as ‘30s costumes, all throughout the show. There are large Broadway characters and famous movie stars and a lot of glamour.”

In a nod to his castmates, Murray opined, “I feel blessed to be working with the actors in the show, Eileen Bowman is playing Lily Garland and working with her has been an absolute dream. She’s a savvy, funny comedian, with a beautiful singing voice. I also get to work with people who have been friends of mine for many, many years: Melinda Gilb, Steve Gunderson and Melissa Fernandes. Being on stage with them is more fun than I could possibly imagine.”

Murray constantly challenges himself, keeping a dedicated pace as Cygnet’s artistic director, the show director and a cast member. “More than keeping up with the pace, I have to set the pace. It’s a high-energy show and I have to lead by example. It really is a matter of my fitting into the overall production as an actor. As a director, I am creating the environment and world of the play and I know how my character fits into that world. On one level, it’s just a matter of stepping into what we have created for the show.”

For those of us in love with the sparkle of old Hollywood, Murray says, “This musical is a classic example of a great Broadway musical. A musical of this caliber is a rare one and for those who really love great classics, this one definitely ranks up there.”

On the Twentieth Century runs now through Sunday, April 30 at the Cygnet Theatre in Old Town. For tickets and more information, call 619.337.1525 or go to: cygnettheatre.com.

Category: General, San Diego, Theatre

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