The Twentieth Century Limited is again speeding from Chicago to New York, but on the stage and not the rails of the former New York Central.
It’s a musical production titled On The Twentieth Century and it opened on March 15 at the, ahem, American Airlines Theater in New York City. It was the speed of the airlines, after all, that helped to put the Century out of business in December 1967.
But from the time that it was launched in June 1902, the train, along with its chief competitor the Broadway Limited of the Pennsylvania Railroad, defined fast luxury travel.
The musical is set in the 1930s. Oscar Jaffee is a theater producer who has just seen his latest effort close in Chicago after its first act. It was his fourth consecutive flop.
He is desperately pursuing his former protégée and lover Lily Garland, who left him to become a movie goddess. Oscar hopes to get Lily to underwrite his next production as well as win back her heart.
Oscar and Lily have both boarded the Century in Chicago and he has 16 hours to get her to agree to sign a contract.
But he must overcome the antics of Andy Karl (Lily’s boy toy), a rival producer, and Letitia Peabody Primrose (a rich philanthropist).
All of this is portrayed on a set designed to resemble the interior of the train. Scenes are played out in sleeping car compartments, in the dining car and in the lounge car. The play opens on the platform of Chicago’s LaSalle Street Station.
The set includes a large art deco rendering of the streamlined locomotive that pulled the train.
The musical has been described as part operetta, part farce and part screwball comedy.
The latest production of On the Twentieth Century is a revival of a play that was first performed in February 1978.
That production, which won two Tony Awards, was inspired by the 1934 movie Twentieth Century, which itself was inspired by a 1932 play of the same name by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. Hech and MacArthur were in turn inspired by an unpublished play written by Charles Bruce Millholand.
The latest Broadway production of On the Twentieth Century features Kristin Chenoweth as Lily and Peter Gallagher as Oscar.