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 The Theatreguide.London Review

On The Twentieth Century
Union Theatre       Winter 2010-2011

Even Homer nods, so I suppose it was inevitable that Cy Coleman might eventually write a musical without a single memorable song, or that Comden and Green's legendary wit and invention would someday fail them.

It is particularly regrettable that both happened at the same time, in this 1978 musical based on a classic 1930s screwball comedy about a producer trying desperately to sign a big star in the course of an overnight train trip.

Still, it managed to run for a year on Broadway, so this ambitious fringe theatre could reasonably hope that, even though the elaborate sets of the original production were the only things the critics liked, a small-scale revival might find charms hitherto missed.

And director Rory McBride and his cast do show that the two central characters are delightful comic monsters and that there are a couple of secondary roles that can add to the fun.

Howard Samuels recognises that the producer must be constantly over the top in his self-dramatisations, giving him some of the flamboyance and charm of a young Richard Dreyfuss, while Rebecca Vere is her funniest when she evokes images of Carol Burnett doing Joan Crawford with a lisp.

But they and the rest of the amiable and hard-working cast are ultimately defeated by the total absence of exciting, witty or hummable songs, leaving the show to plod where it wants to gambol, perversely perking up only between songs when the performers can generate some energy through their broad comic acting.

This one has to be strictly for musical comedy buffs looking to plug an obscure gap in their experience of the genre.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of On The Twentieth Century - Union Theatre 2010