The subject of this column last week was the 1932 play Twentieth Century, on which 1978's On the 20th Century is based. One of my all-time favorite musicals, its superb original production had to be seen to be believed. I was fortunate forty-four years ago to have done so one-and-a-half times; brazenly second acting it on a hot summer night while wandering about Times Square with nothing to do at 9:15 p.m. I loved how spectacularly over-the-top it seemed in almost every way and yet how it managed to still deliver emotionally. That is probably because it featured artists working at the top of their form, all on the same page (well, nearly all). While watching it forty-four years ago on the stage of the St. James Theatre, I felt I might have been witnessing the final stop on the train (not to stretch a metaphor). Except for David Merrick's 42nd Street, which came two years later, most American musicals began to pare down around the end of the seventies, all but throwing up their hands once the British Invasion arrived with overstuffed, serious-minded epics like Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera, sticking around for what felt like eons.

In his opening night review in the New York Times, Richard Eder wrote that On the 20th Century

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Ron Fassler

Ron Fassler is a theatre historian, drama critic and author of "Up in the Cheap Seats: A Historical Memoir of Broadway."