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Shortshrift Theatre presents
On The 20th Century


Music by Cy Coleman


Book by Betty Comden & Adolph Green


Directed by Ryan McBryde


Musical Direction by Oliver Jackson


Choreography by Drew McOnie


Union Theatre


14 December 2010 - 15 January 2011






A review by Bernie Whelan for EXTRA! EXTRA!

Another hit show at the Union theatre!

Unlike Bells Are Ringing, this is a backstage musical in the long tradition from Broadway Melody in 1929 to Glee that is still ubiquitous today, especially if you include reality TV 'everyman' shows. On The 20th Century is a blast from the past, but it takes a wry look at celebrity and the sometimes compromising search for the money to fund it, making this show relevant to our cash strapped creative industry in an era of cuts.

Running from creditors after four flops, the gloriously camp theatre impresario, Oscar Jaffee (Howard Samuels) flees on 'The 20th Century' train from Chicago, a town of 'hog butchers' which failed to appreciate his genius. His faithful sidekicks Owen O'Malley (Matt Harrop) and Oliver Webb (Chris David Storer) tell him he has just 16 hours before the train reaches New York to come up with a new show to save all their skins. It is never in any doubt, at least to Oscar Jaffee in 'I Rise Again', that he will snatch another triumph from the snapping jaws of a 1931 American Depression, but then this character is Broadway personified. Into the next carriage arrives his ingénue discovery turned Hollywood starlet Lilly Garland (Rebecca Vere) who looks every inch the diva with a voice that flips between operatic prima donna and hard bitten Broadway broad with mesmeric ease. Lily and Oscar were once lovers although she has the handsome Bruce Granit (Robbie Scotcher) to crush her in his arms now. Oscar begs Lilly to come back but she sings 'I've Got It All' before he convinces her that she has the 'X' factor for the role of 'The Magdalene'. Add the apparently rich religious fanatic Letitia Peabody Primrose (Valda Aviks) into the mix as a source of funds for the new show and you have some of the ingredients which make this part operetta, part farce, part screwball comedy and the most fun you can have anywhere in London for two hours this Christmas.

With top notch talent like Cy Coleman (Sweet Charity) Betty Comden & Adolph Green (On The Town) teaming up, with their decades of professional experience in 1978 to write this show for Broadway, it had to be good. What Ryan McBryde and his team have managed to pull off at the Union theatre is the feeling of relative optimism from that time and all of the pizzazz. Valda Aviks was side-splittingly funny as Ms Primsrose, the mad old lady loose on a train. Her big number 'Repent' combined slap-stick interaction with the audience, impressive choreography (hats off to Drew McOnie), superb operatic singing and show-tune sass to beat the band and let's not forget the band - the saxaphone quartet and piano were the heart and soul of this show train, keeping the wild energy of the cast on the rails. One of the cleverest numbers was 'Life is Like A Train', which used the suitcases of the sparse set and the cast with the music to mimic the sound and action of a train. Since we were at the Union theatre under a railway arch with actual trains going by, the location added an extra dimension to the witty lyrics.

To travel On The 20th Century is a wonderful, joyful experience not to be missed. Congratulations to every member of this talented company who achieved the magic of transporting a hugely appreciative audience to a time and place where all engines were firing. We really got on board.


Union Theatre

 204 Union St, London SE1 0LX
Evenings: 7:30pm, Saturday and Sunday: 2:30pm (except Sunday and Monday evenings)

Tickets £16, 50 Concs £13.50 (Students, Children & OAP's)

Box Office: 020 7261 9876



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