All Aboard the Fast-Tack to Hilarity on the Twentieth Century at ICT

‘Twentieth Century’ closes Indianapolis Civic Theatre's season

INDIANAPOLIS — All aboard the fast-track to hilarity as “Twentieth Century” by Ken Ludwig closes Indianapolis Civic Theatre’s 2008-09 season, playing through May 17.

Ludwig’s riotous farce chronicles the shameless devises of a bankrupt theatre producer as he tries to seduce a tempestuous Hollywood diva during a 20-hour bullet-train ride from Chicago to New York.

Ludwig’s new adaptation of the classic 1932 screwball comedy by Ben Hecht and Charles McArthur is about Oscar Jaffe, the egocentric Broadway director, and Lily Garland, the chorus girl and former lover he transformed into a leading lady years earlier. Bankrupt, with his career on a downslide, Oscar boards the Twentieth Century Limited on a mission to sign Lily, now a Hollywood diva, to a contract for his newest project which he doesn’t have at the moment but which turns out to be a Broadway version of German’s “Passion Play.”

He desperately needs her star power to convince investors that the production is creditable and will do anything to win back her affections, not to mention her good-as-backer’s-gold signature on the contract. However, his former protégé will have nothing to do with him. Aided by his pushy manager Ida, his press secretary Owen, and a Bible-thumping multimillionaire, Oscar has 20 hours to persuade Lily to ditch her new agent and paramour George and return to Broadway in his upcoming show. If he fails, it’s the end of the line.

The original play “Twentieth Century” was written by the award-winning team of Charles McArthur and Ben Hecht and opened at the Broadhurst Theatre in New York on Dec. 29, 1932. The team, prominent literary and theatrical men in New York in the 1920s and ‘30s, based their script on a play by Charles Bruce Milholland titled “Napoleon of Broadway” and inspired by Milholland’s own trip on the 20th Century Limited in 1930. In 1935, McArthur and Hecht took the show to the silver screen in a film starring John Barrymore and Carole Lombard. The show was revived in 1950 at the ANTA Playhouse, later moving to the Fulton Theatre and starring José Ferrer and Gloria Swanson. A highly successful musical version of the show titled “On The Twentieth Century,” which received several Tony Awards, was staged in 1978. Award-winning playwright Ken Ludwig (“Moon Over Buffalo,” “Crazy For You,” “Lend Me A Tenor”), adapted Hecht and McArthur script in 2003, reducing the number of characters from 30 to 13 and punching up the dialogue. Alec Baldwin and Anne Heche starred in the Broadway production at the Roundabout Theatre Company’s American Airlines Theatre, which opened March 25, 2004 garnering two Tony Award nominations and a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Set Design of a Play.

Indianapolis Civic Theatre’s production of “Twentieth Century” is directed by Artistic Director Robert J. Sorbera. The creative production team also includes James O. Schumacher (set design), Ryan Koharchik (lighting design), Jean Engstrom (costumes), Michael J. Lasley (sound design), Debbie Williams (hair/wig design), and Allison Ackmann (stage manager).

Bill Book is the arrogant Oscar Jaffe, a down-on-his-luck Broadway Director and Karla Williams is his would-be muse Lily Garland. Karen Frye is Ida Webb and Mark Fishback is Owen O’Malley, Oscar’s partners in the plan to persuade Lily to leave Hollywood and return to Broadway. Gregory Howard portrays fervent religious fanatic Matthew Clark and Kyle Martin is George Smith, Lily’s new boy toy personal agent. The talented cast also includes Duane Mercier as a jittery doctor, Sonja Schoene as his mistress, Parrish Williams as the train conductor, and Paul Hansen in the multi-roles of a detective, a porter, and various train passengers.

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