Book & Lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Music by Cy Coleman
adapted from plays by Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur and Bruce Mulholland


Opened at the St. James Theatre    February 19, 1978    449 performances
Original Director: Harold Prince
Original Choreographer: Larry Fuller
Original Producer: Robert Fryer, Mary Lea Johnson, James Cresson, Martin Richards
Original Leads: Lily: Madeline Kahn    Oscar: John Cullum    Letitia Peabody: Imogene Coca
Cast Size: Male: 7 plus 4 porters    Female: 5    Ensemble: 8 and up    Total Cast Size: 24 and up.
Orchestra: 19  (Can be done with reduced orchestra I believe, even with piano/percussion/bass.)
Published Script: Samuel French
Production Rights: Samuel French
Recordings: Love the Broadway recording.
Film: None.
Other shows by the authors: Comden & Green: On The Town, Wonderful Town, Bells Are Ringing, Singin’ In The Rain, The Bandwagon, Applause Coleman: Little Me, Wildcat, Sweet Charity, Seesaw, I Love My Wife, Barnum, The Will Rogers Follies, City Of Angels
Awards: Nominated for 9 Tony Awards, won 5 including Best Book, Score, and Leading Actor (Cullum), plus one for a relatively unknown, Best Supporting Actor – Kevin Kline.


A modern comic operetta with Musical Comedy values.  Good for Colleges, Universities, Dinner Theater, Larger Little Theaters (with strong vocalists for the leads), small opera companies looking for a lark, stock companies (the set and choreography  is simple enough and the show can be inserted into a reasonably busy schedule), and certainly regional houses and Broadway.

Be Warned:

The voices required for the two leads are fairly legit, it calls for operatically trained voices for those parts. The rest are Musical Theater.

There’s a crazy lady pushing Christianity in the show. If that offends you, skip this show.


ACT ONE: We are watching a performance of a terrible play, something about Joan of Arc. She’s about to be burned when the Stage Manager steps on, announces the last member of the audience has departed and “The French Girl” is closed. Their erstwhile Director/Producer, Oscar Jaffee (patterned after John Barrymore to some extent) is absent, as the actors gather to moan to the theater Gods about being “Stranded Again” in Chicago. Owen, press agent, and Oliver, business manager, are revealed behind pieces of scenery as the show is evicted into the alley outside the theater. The actors demand that the men pay them. And everyone wants to know where Jaffee is. The men send the cast scattering after Jaffee. Except one man still dressed as a knight in armor waits for them to leave, and then gives Oliver and Owen a slip of paper from Jaffee, ordering them to meet him on the great Twentieth Century, a train to NYC. (“Saddle Up The Horse”)

The train station. Four porters burst in, helping people get their bags on board while singing and dancing their pride and joy working “On The Twentieth Century”, the “luxury liner of locomotive trains” that takes 16 hours to get where it’s going. (This song has been stuck in my head for decades.) Various people board.

Drawing Room A, aboard. Owen and Oliver feign anger that Drawing Room A is taken by a Mr. and Mrs. J. Smith, claiming they’d reserved it weeks ago for noted producer and star Oscar Jaffee. The train secretary deals with the “angry” men as Letitia Primrose, a dotty old woman, enters. In the argument with the secretary, Owen notices the tag on the “Smith’s” bags… Lights rise in the drawing room. There, Lockwood, an older statesman-like man, makes a quick pass at his “secretary”, whose name he can’t quite recall. Outside Room A, Oliver dismisses the porters, stating that he will deliver “Mr Smith’s” bags to him personally. Inside Room A, Oliver and Owen threaten the Congressman with public disgrace if he doesn’t leave the room for Oscar. The room is theirs.

Oscar knocks on the window to the room frantically, from outside the train which has started to move. They open the window and haul him in. The man declares he shall never bring culture to a pig-town like Chicago again. His aids declare him bankrupt. But he announces to them and the world, “I Rise Again”, and that he will find his way to success once more. He’s informed he has an offer to direct a road company of a crap show called “The Fencing Master”, from Max Jacobs – Oscar’;s former office boy, whom he fired for incompetence. Max has three hits in a row, now, as a Producer. Oscar fires Oliver and Owen for the hundredth time, a ritual no one takes seriously.

The conductor announces they will arrive at Englewood in fifteen minutes, and Oscar is suddenly alive with a plan! It is there that an “angel of deliverance” shall appear – the well-known actress and Oscar’s former better half, Lily Garland. She will be in Room B, next to Oscar’s room – the reason he insisted on Drawing Room A. If they can get her to sign a contract to perform for Jaffee, they will be saved. But she’s won an Academy Award, and has no need of Oscar.

In Flashback, we see how Oscar “shaped” Lily’s career for her. In a theater somewhere, an audition years ago. Max Jacobs is a stage manager. Owen and Oliver are on hand. Oscar explains the show to a richly-dressed actress, Imelda Thornton. She’s to try out for the role of Veronique La Rue, a child-woman, the height of French haut monde. Oscar treats Thornton like the star she is, and boots her agent from the audition. They wait for Imelda’s accompanist, who arrives late. The pianist is quite plain, simple, a young woman. The young girl corrects the singing of the famed actress, and Thornton fires her. But Oscar has seen in the girl the making of a star, and he’s never wrong about that. He insists the girl read for the role and she does, flatly. Then under his direction, she starts to show the same fire as she did with the sctress. (“Veronique”) She transitions into a beautiful, radiant actress, starring in Jaffee’s show, as she sings.

Drawing Room A. Oscar is determined that Lily shall be his star again. The Conductor comes through to warn Jaffee there’s some sort of nut aboard. But really…suddenly, breaks into song as he has written a play about a conductor’s life. (“I Have written A Play”) The Conductor warns Mrs. Primrose, walking by, about the religious nut, but she’s reading her Bible and is unconcerned. Jaffee changes, to prepare for his attempted seduction of Lily.

The observation car and corridor. As Lily gets on the train, people gather to watch, thrilled. (“Together”) Bruce Granit shields Lily from the mob. Drawing Room B. The photographers follow Lily in and get a few more shots. Granit shoves his face into the shot, as the vain co-star of her last three movies. They kiss for the nice reporter. He gives her flowers, as he’s staying in Chicago. He leaves, and melodramatically, she succumbs to tears. But her maid, Agnes, dryly wonders who she’s playing this scene for. Then Granit returns, and Lily suddenly shouts at him to leave. He can’t – the train’s moving. She’s furious – he’s supposed to be out publicizing their new film. But Granit wants to keep an eye on her. She’s going to NYC, and he doesn’t want her signing up to a do a play or something like that. She loudly declares that Lily Garland, the greatest star in the world, will do whatever she wants. But they embrace and all is forgiven…as Owen enters the room, looking for “Veronique.” She lights up. Oliver warmly joins in. She is thrilled, it reminds her that she was in theater, and an artist, once. Suddenly, it occurs to her that Jaffee is probably aboard, as well. Granit is furious, and assumes Jaffee’s presence is why Lily wanted him off the train. Owen and Oliver tell her that Oscar needs her desperately, and she replies (in operatic terms), “Never”, in a classic case of the lady doth protest too much. The boys leave, defeated. She swear to Bruce Granit she’s told him everything about her many and unusual lovers (she lists them), and Jaffee means nothing to her. But in her’s and Oscar’s mind, they relive a romantic past. (“Our Private World”)

The Observation car. Stickers in various places read “repent for the time is at hand.” They’re on seats, on people’s backs, on Letitia’s bag. Everyone is upset and complains to the Conductor. Alone, though, Letitia contentedly makes it clear that it is she who is placing the stickers, and demanding in her way that the world “Repent”.

Drawing Rooms A and B, and the Observation Car. Lights rise in A. Owen and Oliver have reported to Jaffee about Lily and her movie star boyfriend, and in his arrogant way, he considers she’s gone downhill from her time with Oscar Jaffee. He must win her back! He fires the boys yet again, and they head for the bar and a drink. In the Observation car, Oscar follows them and sees the stickers, even on his own man’s jacket. And it gives him the perfect idea for a play for Lily – about Mary Magdalene. It is the thing he needs to move her into signing a contract. In “A”, Oscar thumbs through a Bible. In the Observation Car, the two sycophants wonder why they work for Oscar when Letitia approaches and asks if they’ve seen her missing Bible. In “B”, Lily and Granit passionately embrace. In “A”, Oscar changes costume into something more sober. In “B”, as Lily changes into something more comfortable, Granit chills champagne. Granot and Jaffee are on opposite sides of adjoining doors, both looking (ardently) into a mirror, almost facing each other, as they each extol their own virtues. (“Mine”) In the Observation Car, Letitia notices Owen is writing, and expresses her admiration for writers. She loves to “sponsor creative people.” In “A”, Oliver hands a press release to Oscar, while Oscar holds up the Bible and proclaims “they don’t write dialogue like this anymore.” In the Observation Car, Owen has told Letitia he writes ad copy, and she tells him that her company does a lot of advertising. He gets interested. As it turns out, it’s a large company and she’s quite wealthy. And she has so much money, she does not know what to do with it…Owen knows a gift horse when he sees one.

In “A”, Oscar gives himself a last look, ties a “sling” to his arm. In “B”, Lily enters in a devastatingly seductive negligee, Bruce is thrilled. Granit behaving ridiculously to win her favors when Oscar enters. Lily is embarrassed and stunned. Oscar makes it clear that he and Lily have a past together, and Granit is furious that she lied to him. She dismisses Granit, and suddenly, she’s alone with Jaffee. She tries to kick Oscar out, as well. He tries to woo her, but she does not need him anymore (“I’ve Got It All”, another the-lady-doth-protest-too-much moment), even as Oscar claims she’s lost it. He’s offering her “her last chance to become immortal.” But she decides to wort with the younger Producer, Max Jacobs, and remain mortal. As he leaves he announces her real name, Mildred Plotka, and that she will end up where she belongs, playing piano in a second-class bordello.

Oscar staggers into his Drawing Room, determined to kill his two loyal assistants who told Lily he’s broke. But when he hears they’ve encountered money in the form of Letitia Primrose, and that she’s religious, he has a sudden change of heart and asks the boys to usher the lady in. They’re about to speak when Lockwood enters…with a play about his life that he wants Jaffee to read. Oscar gets rid of the man. Letitia wants to know what is Oscar’s denomination, and he tries to fake his way to an answer. He and Letitia see eye to eye as the four porters and passengers celebrate the fact that “Life Is Like A Train.”

ACT TWO: In “A”. Letitia has authored Oscar a check, and Owen and Oliver celebrate the fact that it has “Five Zeros”, preceded by a two. A knock at the door brings Agnes, Lily’s maid, announcing that Lily wants to see Oscar. Since she does not know about the money, and he never got to tell her about the role, Oscar assumes he still has the old magic. Before he can get out, Dr. Johnson enters…with a play he wants Oscar to read about his life. Oscar heads for Lily’s room, but is met at the door by Granit. He breezily leaves Lily and Oscar alone, confident in his own restored relationship with Lily. She feels badly about their fight and offers to send him money…$35 a week, to help him until, as he puts it, he’s “back on my knees.” But he shows her the big check just written to him. And he starts selling her on Mary Magdalene. She can instantly see herself in the role of the Mother of God (of course). Together they fervently paint a ridiculous picture of the play they would do. But as things heat up between them, she suddenly withdraws. She doesn’t believe Ms. Primrose exists, so Oscar opens the door connecting to “A”, and the boys and Letitia pour in. In “The Sextet”, they all pressure Lily to sign Oscar’s contract. Granit enters and is enraged. But Lily is fascinated with the contract. But in the end, she can’t sign. But Oscar isn’t done, and changes plans to make a movie instead of a play…if she’ll do the play first. Letitia is thrilled and offers to put up all the money.

It’s then the Conductor announces that Letitia will be met in Cleveland by some “people”, and that she’d understand. She claims they are her Company Directors, and departs. Lily accepts. Bruce is furious (again). Lily is handed the new agreement, and asks for a minute or two alone.

In the Observation Car, two officers from the institution, along with the Conductor and others, look for Letitia. Why? Because, as the entire train discovers, “She’s A Nut”, escaped from the institution. This is very bad news to Oliver and Owen. Granit is thrilled, Lily horrified. Lily hurls the contract at Oscar’s face. He protests he didn’t know. Then, Max Jacobs shows up, and he has a play for her. Lily is saved from Jaffee’s clutches.

In “B”, Lily reads Jacob’s play, as Max and Granit observe her anxiously. Max is a bit of an idiot, but Lily loves the play. But Lily has Mary Magdelene on the mind, now. And she paints the picture for Max that she and Jaffee concocted together, earlier. And when Max badmouths Jaffee’s sort of plays, Lily rushes to his defense. She kicks them out to re-read the play, and sings through its story about “Babette”. And as she does, she starts to realize that she’s in love with Oscar. In her mind, though, the “Babette” characters make war with the Biblical ones, and triumph. She will do Max Jacob’s Babette play.

In the Observation Car. Owen and Oliver are drunk at the bar. Oscar arrives to melodramatically announce that he is leaving them all his worthless, worldly possessions. (“The Legacy”) He departs, ostensibly to kill himself. A shot in heard in “A”. Oscar departs the room, crying that he’s shot – Letitia has shot him. She claims it was an accident. Dr. Johnson at first refuses to help, for Jaffee refused to read the man’s play. But Jaffee was shot, so he acquiesces. Letitia is led away. The doctor announces Jaffee is perfectly fine. Jaffee melodramatically claims the doctor has saved his life, and determines to produce the man’s play. (At least, that’s what he says.) He then enlists the doctor’s aid in “a harmless charade.” The doctor is to sit and shake his head sadly. Enter Lily, weeping, as she believes Oscar is doomed, and has killed himself. (“Love-Death”) They play out a very melodramatic death-farewell scene, in which his last request is she sign the contract to play Magdalene. Then he springs to life to announce that Max Jacobs is too late, Lily has signed! And so she has, she smugly points out to Oliver, who reads the signature. “Peter Rabbit.” As they shout invectives at each other, they start to laugh, throw open their arms, and kiss. They are Lily and Oscar once more.


“Stranded Again”, “Saddle Up The Horse”, “On The Twentieth Century”, “I Rise Again”, “Veronique”, “I Have Written A Play”, “Together”, “Never”, “Our Private World”, “Repent”, “Mine”, “I’ve Got It All”, “Life Is Like A Train”, “Five Zeroes”, “Sextet”, “She’s A Nut”, “Babette”, “The Legacy”, “Love-Death”

As always, you may elect to skip or ignore my opinions and rating. If you do and you’re run over by that train you didn’t see coming, well, life is like a train.

One of the most underdone, under-appreciated, underestimated of all Musicals. The comic operetta met its match with this wildly funny, broad, physical Musical Farce.

It’s strange that, at the time, some critics complained that Mr. Coleman had moved away from the jazz he was so famous for, in order to write a comic operetta. Why complain? The Musical is very tuneful, energetic, thoroughly memorable – every song an accomplishment by a mature and gifted composer having himself a hell of a time. I’m still humming the numbers decades later! I think this is (sacrilege…) Coleman’s best score and finest accomplishment. And it has Comden And Green at their sharpest, silliest and most inspired, writing book and lyrics adapted from an already very funny set of prototypes, about showbiz, which they knew about as well as it could be known.

Okay, I’m going to say it. This is one of the funniest Musicals I ever saw. And it’s high on my list of personal favorites. I also felt when I saw it that it was a very welcome move from Director Prince. A farce! And beautifully, wonderfully done. What a treasure from our finest Musical Theater Director. (He would open Evita in London just months later, and demonstrate in that short time a versatility other Directors can only marvel at.)

So why has this show effectively vanished from a repertoire that could badly benefit from it?

This is one of the rare Musical Comedies that isn’t particularly going to date – it’s funny in its own right. And are there no more arrogant, self-involved actors and actresses? Has that stereotype vanished from the world. Being a guy who has worked with thousands of actors and actresses, for decades, um, nope. They’re still there. Thank God. Part of the fun of our industry.

Is the music in this show commercial today? Nope, and it wasn’t when they wrote the show. It’s not intended to be, it all forwards story and characters extremely well, and creates an atmosphere in which farce thrives. The score works for the show, and works just about perfectly. But nope, there’s no rap, or R&B uber-ballads, or whatever. This score is far more than functional, it’s a pleasure, a delight. Even the ballad, “Our Private World”, is a hoot, over-the-top grandiloquence that one can only smile at – and then go home humming the melody.

Great roles for mature actors in their 40s and up! Lovely, funny songs with the kind of snappy, witty lyrics only the best theatrical lyricists can come up with. A ridiculous story that an audience can’t help but be amused by. Gymnastics in the farcical staging that I recall as amazing. (I saw Rock Hudson do this in Los Angeles, with I believe Imogene Copa, Kevin Kline and Judy Kaye. I just remember they were all fun, including Hudson. It was a great time and a splendid production.) Great parts for mature actors and actresses who always have a hard time finding them. Actually, the show is more like the great Kiss Me, Kate than anything else, and though it isn’t quite of that caliber, it compares favorably in many ways.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME? This is a show that should be done!

MY RATING: ** (An excellent show, well worth considering.)



This is a rich, complex score. The melodies are broad, and move. Coleman, jazz trained, created complex figures for this score, difficult to play, to teach, and to learn. You will definitely want an experienced Musical Director, one comfortable with operetta as well as Musical Theater forms and styles. Your six principles, along with the four porters, will do the vast majority of the singing.

Oscar Jaffee – Baritone with legit instrument, excellent control, power in his mid and upper register. A difficult role to sing. Must execute lyrics very well and in character.

Lily Garland – A soprano with legit training and some serious high notes. Must have a beautiful strong soprano voice with a growling belt. A tremendous vocal role. Must execute lyrics very well and in character.

Bruce Granit – Tenor with good strong mid-range and some decent high note.

Oliver Webb – Lyric baritone with a character-driven voice.

Owen O’ Malley – Lyric baritone with a character-driven voice.

Letittia Peabody Primrose – Mezzo-soprano, nice expressive instrument, good control, character-driven.

Max Jacobs – Spoken role.

Grover Lockwood – Spoken role.

Dr. Johnson – Spoken role.

Agnes – Spoken role.

Imelda Thornton – Contralto.

Emily – Spoken role.

The Porters – Four Black singers with sophisticated Musical Theater voices, almost operatically trained. The voices should communicate class, style, pride. Must harmonize extremely well.

Ensemble – All must sing quite well, with fine high notes and strong mid-ranges, and particularly clear delivery of lyrics. An almost opera-trained sound.


This is no dance show. It’s a comic quasi-operetta. But the numbers are all built around character quirks, and the movement should reflect it. And there is some real dance in the show. A Choreographer for this show will need to think like a Director. And the goal is laughs built out of who these characters are and the ridiculous things they do to satisfy their enormous egos. They will each of them (Oscar, Lily and Granit) go through any comic gymnastics, emotional, physical or vocal, to placate the unending cry for attention and importance. And the Choreographer should know and know how to use extensive tap, and Musical Theater conventions from the 30s and 40s.

A Choreographer may need to have a hand on “Saddle Up The Horse”, “On The Twentieth Century”, “Veronique”, “Together”,“Mine” (which was very gymnastic when I saw it), “Life Is Like A Train”, “Sextet”, and “She’s A Nut”. The show needs choreographic energy, certainly, but it should not become “dance” except in “Life Is Like A Train,” a massive tap number for the four porters, and in “Veronique”.

“Saddle Up The Horse”, and “On The Twentieth Century” are connected, and really one number. These are the energized numbers used to set the story in motion. “Horse” spells a picture of Oscar’s two henchmen and their endless if somewhat reluctant devotion to him, always fueled by impending disaster, actual disaster, or sudden glory. The number reminds me (not musically) of “Fugue For Tinhorns”, from Guys & Dolls. Two somewhat seedy men establish the idea of the story, where we are, the kind of people we’ll be watching tonight. The problem is that the song is fast, the lyrics go by very fast, and can be hard to grasp for an audience never before exposed to the number. So the movement must be simple, and the men face front more or less all the time. It is crucial the audience “get it.” The music is explosive with energy, but you can’t allow that to dictate the kind of movement, or even necessarily the amount of movement. Err on the side of clarity.

“On The Twentieth Century” is more generic, establishing the train, and is full ensemble. The music should reflect the train’s elegance and sophistication, and be a celebration of the good life. Hollywood stars and Broadway Producers, senators and millionaires ride this train. It is exclusive, people fight for Drawing Rooms as a status symbol. The train is one of the stars of the show, and this is the song that introduces it. (The entire show, to some extent, is a celebration of slower, more luxurious travel than we indulge in today as a rule. It is part of the charm of the show.) We should see the kind of people who ride this train as a group, boarding with expensive furs and bags, excited to be aboard. The train is itself an experience for them. And remember, it’s not moving until it moves. Pull the audience in to the pleasure, the wonder of a 16-hour train trip from Chicago to NYC.

“Veronique” is an imagined scene from an imagined musical. It is florid, a chance to do some movement and fancy staging as the train set should evacuate the stage in favor of memory and flashback. Lily as Veronique fights a war, and is lifted in triumph by soldiers at the end. The WW II tale is spelled out in lyrics and should be in movement as well. This number uses all the men in the company that can be used as her dance partners/characters in the tale. Today, it could feel like a lampoon of some of the more militant scenes in Les Mis, right down to the waving French flag, which is not a bad thing. Lily has a LOT of singing to do here, so you may want to stand her fairly still and have the action pour forth around her, always keeping her and “Veronique” at the center of the action.

“Together” is another number that will support some dance. The train is in motion, and the passengers (ensemble) are ecstatic to be on a train with an Academy Award winning star. The number helps to establish how important Lily is to everyone (including Lily). The men dream of being in close proximity with her, her slippers, her ankles. (Yup.) It is an upbeat, fun number for the ensemble, and you can dance them. The key is that these people see the train as a small, contained environment that they are sharing with acting royalty. The focus is Lily, again. The movement should communicate just how nuts people go when around celebrity, and could be over-the-top and really funny.

“Mine” is effectively a duet for Oscar and Granit, though they sing from opposite sides of a wall, each looking into a mirror. It is a pissing contest, each man pumping himself up for an assault on Fort Lily. Their livelihoods and, as they see it, their lives are at stake. The number is filled with sweaty desperation and testosterone. But they are each in a very small space, a restroom in a Drawing Room, which adds comic possibilities to the movement. And of course, neither knows the other one is there.

“Life Is Like A Train” is the big dance number, and closes Act I. The four Porters are the focus of the number, and they should tap dance like fiends, establishing train-like rhythms that vary and intensify. The number should be a marvel, a thing the audience can’t stop talking about throughout the Intermission. They must sing, too, a well, by the way, but tap will be the focus of the number. In an odd way, I’d say this was the most important number in the show. It expresses the simple message of the piece, and is the most vital number. It must work very well to bring the audience back for Act II.

The “Sextet” (“Sign, Lily”) is an enormous number. Lily is at its focus, being pulled in every direction. The desperation felt by all concerned fills the stage. It is urgent, comic, sweaty, a big, operetta-ish piece of fun. But the story and characters will need to be at the core of everything you stage. There are comic gymnastics in the small room as Granit and Jaffee work to exclude each other from Lily’s presence. And through the number, Lily starts to realize that it’s Oscar she loves, which must be clear as well. Again, don’t let movement do anything other than support the story-telling.

“She’s A Nut” is a nearly full company expression of shock and dismay. Like everything else in this comic melodrama, the display is, well, melodramatic. You can indulge in some movement. The attitude is key to the number and can be expressed in frantic, “the world is ending” movement. Have some fun here.

A Choreographer for this show will need to work well with non-dancers. The Choreographer will also need to work closely with the Director. A knowledge of tap, and traditional Musical Comedy forms will be necessary. Not a job for a beginner.


Oscar Jaffee – late 40s-60s, an aging, brilliant theatre impresario. Flamboyant, charismatic, ageless, ruthless, utterly self-involved, vain beyond description, melodramatic in the extreme, but fearless in the face of disaster. A definitive hambone with the theater running through his veins. Cast for voice, acting, type, movement, must do all well. A star.

Lily Garland – In her 30s or so, an actress and, more importantly, a star. Spoiled, pampered, self-involved, charismatic, reasonably intelligent and secretly cursed with some self-doubt. Should be lovely to be a star. Cast for voice, acting, type, some movement – must be good at all of it. A star.

Bruce Granit – 20s. Movie leading man type, in the Errol Flynn-mold. A stud, excessively vain, self-involved, a bit ridiculous and stupid when he becomes angered or unreasonable. Cast for acting, voice, type, movement, must do all of it well.

Oliver Webb – Middle aged, plump, excessively anxious, weary, reasonably intelligent and trying to introduce sanity into the madness around him. Loyal to Oscar for some reason. Cast for type, acting, voice, some movement.

Owen O’ Malley – Younger than Oliver just, the company manager. A drinker. Sardonic, self-deprecating. Also loyal to Oscar. Cast for acting, type, voice, some movement.

Letittia Peabody Primrose – Middle aged-oldish. The picture of easy breeding, sweetness, wealth, and honest religious fervor. In fact, a nut. Cast for type, acting, voice. Get this role right.

Max Jacobs – Young producer (early 30s or so) cursed with a sense of self-importance. Intense and confident. Cast for type, acting, some voice and movement. Should double in ensemble Act I.

Grover Lockwood – 50s-70. Blustering, aging statesman. Cast for acting, type. Should double in ensemble.

Dr. Johnson – Middle aged woman dressed in the male fashion. Matter-of-fact and dry. Cast for acting, type, some voice.

Agnes – Lily’s maid, mid 20s-40s, long-suffering, annoyed with Lily’s self-involvement, bored with life. Cast for voice, type, acting, some movement. Should double in ensemble.

Imelda Thornton – A woman in her mature years, glamorous theater star in furs and her own radiance, imperious, untouchable. Cast for type, acting, voice. Should double in ensemble.

Emily – Lockwood’s young, luscious secretary. Cast for type. Should double in ensemble.

The Porters – Four (usually) Black male porters, must sing, dance, be clean-cut, perfect representatives of the greatest train in history.

Ensemble – All must sing, look the period to some extent.


The 20th Century Limited is a star of this show.

Yes, it was real!

There are many hundreds of photos and paintings inspired by this great train of yesteryear. It was classy, stylish, an example of the heights of civilization.

Set Designers will seriously need to familiarize themselves with the look and feel of this great train. All the action in the play takes place aboard her. The rooms are what we mainly see, and hallways outside them. And yes, the Porters are stereotypes, and existed as such even in the late 40′s.

You can’t design this show without a real investigation into the look and feel of the sets and costumes. The three rooms where 95% of the action takes place are generally presented side by side by side, with “A” and “B” adjoining, a closed door between them. Each has a “bathroom”, small, and we see only a wall with mirrors attached on either side, as a rule. These rooms need to be facedes, open in the front, obviously,. But with doors that can be opened and closed as needed (even though there is no front wall adjoining the hallway).

The colors, the textures should feel period. The red carpet leading up to the train is important, it helps establish that this is no ordinary train. The bullet-like and impressive face of the engine of The Twentieth Century Ltd. Is distinctive, and was famous in its day. We should see a representation of it at some point.

In the end, the entire set will be shaped walls, and not terribly difficult. The furniture (chairs and couch-like seats, tables, a bar in the Observation Room) should feel wedded to the period, impressive, stately. A fun set to design, but it can be done by relative newcomers who do their homework.

There is also the need to play larger numbers like “Veronique”, which is flashback. That means the set should be placed towards the mid-back of the stage, leaving playing area in front. Or it will need to revolve out on a carousel (tough to do), or move out on its own steam, and then back in. I wouldn’t really go that route unless you’re doing a Broadway-type production.


All in period (late 40s), all in character. Lily is a star from Hollywood, late 40s. Oscar, an ego-maniacal Broadway producer/star. Bruce is also a Hollywood icon. They dress the part. Everyone in this show who is on the train is beautifully dressed for the period. You’ll need furs a plenty, suits (pin stripe and such), hats for men and women. Shoes need to be right. And your three leads, at the least, must sing. You can see above what porters wore. They must tap dance and sing, so dress accordingly.

Do your research and costume this creatively. Have fun with the “stars”, they take their status very seriously and are very vain. Get the colors right, the ones they would wear that give them their best look. Think like each character and costume accordingly.

French WW II uniforms for the soldiers in “Veronique.”

You may be able to find some of what you need at thrift stores. Large costume shops can probably costume the show entirely. Not a show for a beginner.


Scripts, contracts, stickers that read “Repent For The end Is At Hand.” Baggage galore, in-period and stylish. Shaving equipment for Oscar and Granit, in-period. The French flags and in-period guns for Veronique, a WW II “epic.” Drinks at the bar. Lots of smaller items. You aren’t likely to have to build many things, but the amount of looking to find the right kind of baggage and period pieces may be extensive. Start early, work closely with other Designers. Not a job for a novice, really.


Very rich and fun to do. When the train is in motion, perhaps the passing scenery and descending sunlight pours in the windows, to grow dark quickly! There are flashback sequences which can be dreamlike, in saturated colors and isolated light. There are numbers that occupy the entire stage and which require Musical Comedy lighting that pops. A feel for the actual light sources on the train would be nice – wall lights, that sort of thing, all in the period. They’ll need to be wired to your board.

A big job, not for a novice.


The stars use make-up, even the very vain men. Oscar may be quite made-up to hide his age. It would be done artfully, to be sure, not obviously or in an embarrassing manner. But it’s the late 40s, and all the women would be made-up. Others should be unobtrusive.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):

Director, Musical Director, Choreographer, Set Designer, Costume Designer, Oscar, Lily, Bruce, Letitia.

Well, no one travels by train anymore. But by the 70s, almost no one did travel by train. Though trains were more a part of the national culture at that time then they are now, which may account for some of the mysteriously lost value of this show today.

That said, no one travels by horse anymore, either, but Hollywood keeps making westerns.

When On The Twentieth Century was written, it was a fun, sweet tribute to a relatively recent by-gone age. It needs to remain exactly that as time moves on, and not devolve into camp, a real threat. It is farce, not camp, and there is a considerable difference. Camp lampoons, it makes fun of. That won’t work with this piece, not at all.

The piece musty be a sort of love letter top a period and a type of life style. We must like these people, and they are already essentially unlikeable. They are utterly self-involved, hard to connect to or root for. This is a problem with the play. We must, however, admire them for their spunk, their energy, their endless drive, the depths and heights they experience. And more than anything else, we must enjoy them, we must have fun. If we can shake our heads in wonder at the machinations each character is willing to go through to get what they want, and laugh at/with them (because they are laughing at themselves at the end of the show, thank God), and enjoy the terrific, alive score, this show will work every time.