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Emerson Colonial Theatre Official Blog

On the Twentieth Century

Posted January 10, 2024

On this day in 1978 - during a blizzard in the city of Boston - Harold Prince's On the Twentieth Century began its pre-Broadway tryout at the Colonial with music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
The musical, partly based on the 1932 play Twentieth Century and its film adaptation, starred Madeline Kahn as Lily Garland, John Collum as Oscar Jaffee, Imogene Coca as Letitia Primrose, and Judy Kaye as Agnes.
Part operetta, part farce, and part screwball comedy, the show followed a behind-the-scenes relationship between Lily, a temperamental actress, and Oscar, a bankrupt theatre producer.
It went on to play 460 performances in New York and won five Tony Awards including Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical for John Collum, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Original Score.
When Kahn eventually left the show during its New York run, she was replaced with understudy Judy Kaye whose theatre career subsequently took off within this new role. Kaye would go on to be a part of the shows US tour opposite Rock Hudson.
Several revivals followed in London and elsewhere, including a revival in 2015 starring Kristin Chenoweth and Peter Gallagher.

Photo 1: On the Twentieth Century Colonial promotional flyer.
Photo 2: Broadway production photo of John Collum and Madeline Kahn.
Photo 3: Imogene Coca, John Cullum & Madeline Kahn in a rehearsal shot for On the Twentieth Century.
Photo 4: On the Twentieth Century 1978 Colonial Theatre Playbill.
Photo 5: Broadway production photo of Dean Dittman, George Coe, John Cullum & Imogene Coca.
Photo 6: Broadway production photo of John Collum and Madeline Kahn.

📸: Martha Swope via @nypl.