After reading some of the reviews of this latest production at the Union Theatre, I wondered if I should be doing something else instead of traipsing through Southwark’s back streets on a rainy evening to watch this American 1930s musical by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. But boy, I am glad I went.
Everything about this production is clever, funny, energetic, and well timed. The plot revolves around a financially broke theatre producer who tries to coax a Hollywood actress – whom he first ‘discovered’ and who was once his paramour – into appearing in his next play. Most of the action takes place on a Chicago to New York bound train with the characters entering and exiting saloon doors. I particularly liked the way the cast used suitcases to portray a moving train in the first act. Flashbacks are also portrayed with similar creativity. You can’t talk about this musical without mentioning Cy Coleman’s music which didn’t only characterise this slapstick comedy for me but it also conjured up romantic images of train journeys. It is pity that his score for this musical isn’t better known.
One other element of this musical that I particularly enjoyed was its parody of the theatrical world. I was sorely reminded of the shortage of West End productions where there were no famous names to entice theatre audiences at very steep prices.
Though the cast is flawless, Veronica Vere who plays the Hollywood actress is the most impressive. Her vocal range is versatile and her stage presence, unmistakable. This isn’t a lavish production but its precision and choreography will blow you away. Life is, after all, more fun on a train.
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
On the Twentieth Century runs until 15 January.