The Department of Theater and Dance took on a mighty challenge this month, daring to perform “On the Twentieth Century.” The 1978 Broadway musical is based on a combination of four plays from the ’20s and two ’30s screwball comedy movies.
“What’s cool about the show is that as a play, it was originally just a screwball comedy and a door-slamming, somewhat slapstick farce,” said director Alan Kenny. “The musical version takes on the dimension of sort of being a mock opera or a mock operetta.”
The musical style influences the plot and characters,causing the musical to have an exaggerated style full of theatrical drama.
“The leading characters are these big, theatrical personalities,” Kenny said. “There’s a producer who used to be a success who is now down on his luck, and then there’s a star, Lily Garland. Those two used to have a torrid love affair. She has now gone off to Hollywood and is very successful and he is desperate to get her back to working for him.”
Senior Bryce Dutton plays a lead character.
“I play the role of Oscar Jaffe, the high priest of the theatre director/producer who is larger than life and completely ridiculous,” Dutton said. “He is ego driven and dramatic and speaks in a Shakespearean style and with high vocabulary that most normal people would never use. He is expressive and powerful and is a mad scientist when it comes to scheming ideas to help him make it to the top of the theatre world.”
Kenny said the production is just as elaborate as the characters who move through it.
“The set is one of the most noteworthy things about the show because the whole show basically takes place on a train,” Kenny said. “The original Broadway production has one of the most elaborate sets in Broadway history. There are books written about this set.”
Dutton said the set took time to get used to.
“The spaces we are confined to are train cars so it calls for a lot of commitment in small areas and some tactical maneuvering to make things run smoothly,” Dutton said.
Dutton said the production is unique compared to other shows he has performed in.
“This musical is special because it has so many elements,” Dutton said. “It’s not as well known in the musical theater canon, but that’s because it takes a lot to put it on. It is so demanding and requires so much of the performers to do a farce like this. There are extreme comedic moments of wit and physical humor, and difficult singing to go along with it. It is the most ridiculous and fun musical I’ve been a part of.”
The production opens in the Jenkins Theater on Feb. 27 and runs through March 7. Tickets are available online and at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Ticket Office.