On The Twentieth Century is a classic American musical that fits the stereotypical image of a Broadway show perfectly. Set on a 1930s train travelling from Chicago to New York, it follows the story of struggling theatre producer, Oscar and his attempts to bring Hollywood actress, Lily Garland back to the stage. Presented by final year students at the Guildhall School, this production showcases the talent of future stars of the stage, but the show itself is not without its shortcomings.
Musically there is not a part of On The Twentieth Century’s score that goes beyond the ordinary. It’s not totally repetitive but it does get boring after a while with big show-tune after big show-tune, plenty of jazz-hands and plenty of big finishes. There are a great deal of ear-worms in the score, particularly the repeated ‘On The Twentieth Century!’ motif that has been stuck in my head ever since (which isn’t something I’m particularly pleased about). It’s not really the style of music as a young person I’d be interested to hear – and in fact I would love to have seen the young cast of the show perform a more modern piece with a bit of variation in terms of the score. It was, however, wonderfully performed by a live orchestra which made it slightly more bearable to listen to the same style of song over and over.
Adam Wiltshire’s set design was wonderful, with the stage surrounded by a beautiful gold plated facade. In keeping with the show’s 1930s setting, there was an Art Deco theme prevalent throughout all the show’s set pieces, particularly impressive on the golden train carriage that took up the whole of the stage during the bulk of the show. The costumes were equally spectacular, with a whole range of beautiful outfits worn not only by the leading characters but by chorus members, particularly during the big numbers ‘Veronique’ and ‘Babette’.
Every member of the Guildhall School’s cast was excellent, whether they were in the ensemble or a leading role. The stand-out star has to be Claudia Jolly as Lily Garland. Jolly was vocally on point throughout whilst also providing humour and endearing character to the role. Also impressive was Bessie Carter as Letitia Peabody Primrose, who really stole the show during ‘Repent’ and continued to have the audience in stitches throughout Act 2. Leading man Theo Boyce as Oscar Jaffee had a lovely tone to his voice, but I couldn’t help feeling he didn’t quite bring the 1930s showbiz quality to his role as his counterparts had done so well.
Excellently cast and beautifully staged, the only downfall of the show is the show itself. The end of Act 1 really dragged and I just didn’t find myself that interested in the plot at all. On The Twentieth Century’s main attraction is meant to be its comedy – but I didn’t find it all that funny either. The humour is classic and slapstick, which is never going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but obviously if you love more traditional farce style shows then this wouldn’t even be an issue for you.
All in all, if you’re looking for a modern and exciting show with plot twists to keep you on your toes and music to interest you for weeks to come then I’d give this one a miss. If you love traditional musicals and are keen to see upcoming stars of the future then go and check it out.
On The Twentieth Century is playing the Silk Street Theatre until 6 July 2016. For more information and tickets, see The Barbican Centre website.