Life Is Like a Train "On the Twentieth Century" at NTC

Johnny DeBernard, Daniela Innocenti-Beem and John Conway in On the 20th Century

"On the Twentieth Century" which just opened at the Novato Theater Company takes place on a 16 hour train ride from Chicago to New York on the Twentieth Century Train in 1932.  According to Artistic Director Blanca Florido, this famous train was considered, at the time, the epitome of luxury and elegance in continental travel.  

"On the Twentieth Century" is a musical with book and lyric by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and music by Cy Coleman.  Part operetta, part farce and part screwball comedy, the story involves the behind-the-scenes relationship of a temperamental actress and a director.

Oscar Jaffee (David Bauer), an egotistical and perpetually broke theatrical producer plots to talk his estranged paramour, Lilly Garland (the wonderful Linda Gaudiani), into appearing in one of his plays. He contrives to have a drawing room on the Twentieth Century at the same time she does.  However, she is a successful and equally egotistical movie actress and wants nothing more to do with him despite the pleas of Oscar's hapless assistant, Owen (John Conway) and Oliver (Johnny DeBernard) who both give stand out performances. Complicating matters are Lilly's current lover, Bruce Granit (Sean O'Brien) who doesn't want to see his meal ticket evaporate and Letitia Primrose (a delightfully comic Daniela Innocenti-Beem), a rich old religious fanatic who gives Oscar $200,000 to produce the play, "Mary Magdalene"--and chaos results when Ms. Primrose proves to be a fraud.  

Very impressive is the amazing direction of Blanca Florido who keeps the cast of 19 actors on their toes.  Equally impressive are the fabulous 100 costumes by Christine Andrews and the set design by Gary Gonser.   The Musical Director Michael Moran on the piano with Debra Chambliss on the keyboard and Mike Evans on percussion carried off Coleman's score of 21 musical numbers beautifully often evoking the movement of a train in its orchestration and rhythms.  

Joyous, lively, original, hilarious and loaded with great performances, "On the Twentieth Century," is one of the 1970's lost musical gems.  The Novato Theater Company's highly ambitious production deserves a lot of credit.  

Shows run at the Novato Theater Company Playhouse, 484 Ignacio Blvd., Novato, October 21-November 13.  Showtime is 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday with Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. For reservations, call 415-883-4498 or go to

Flora Lynn Isaacson