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Turn of the Century Review — Star-Studded Musical at the Goodman Theater

By Patricia Simms

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Jeff Daniels and Rachel York dance

Turn of the Century was so captivating and engaging that during its 100 minutes, I didn’t think once about my world—I was happily living in the 1900’s with Billy Clark (Jeff Daniel), Dixie Wilson (Rachel York) and Israel Baline, Irving Berlin (Mathew Gold). I cared about them, worried about them and was relieved and elated when things worked out. And things worked out with the greatest music of the 20th century. It was a rhythmic, romantic tour through time and the American songbook. Directed by the nine-time Tony Award-winning director/choreographer Tommy Tune, I felt “…the memories came back like they knew the way.”

Jeff Daniels at his piano

How could Turn of the Century miss? The latest work from Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice—the Tony Award-winning team who co-authored the smash sensation Jersey Boys—stars Jeff Daniels (Terms of Endearment, The Squid and the Whale, Lanford Wilson's Fifth of July) and Rachel York (City of Angels, Victor/ Victoria, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), music from a number of styles and eras. It’s not surprising that Chicago theatergoers can’t get enough of it: Turn of the Century has been held over by popular demand until November 2.

Tommy Tune

"We proudly welcome Broadway legend Tommy Tune and his first-rate cast and creative team to the Goodman, and launch our new season with what is bound to be the centerpiece of the fall theater offerings in Chicago," said Artistic Director Robert Falls. "Marshall and Rick have written a fresh, wildly imaginative new musical that will delight, surprise and astonish. We are thrilled to be its first home."

Rachel York

Turn of the Century is the story of a modern cabaret duo Dixie Wilson (York)—an aspiring chanteuse who can't catch a break with a gig or a guy—and Billy (Daniels), her sexy cocktail pianist who knows the songs and loves the ladies. The friction between the two of them is immediate; so is the chemistry. At the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve 1999, the century turns, but in the wrong direction: the duo is catapulted back in time, before the hit songs of the 20th century have been created. Together, Billy and Dixie co-opt the songs that make the whole world sing, becoming the stars they've dreamed of being, at the turn of the century.

Jeff Daniels

A story this original could seem contrived, but it doesn’t even ask for audience buy-in. It just assumes that we’ll accept the time-travel plot. And do we ever. The minute Billy sits at that illuminated piano, we’re goners. In no time at all, we learn of his involvement with Dixie and the plot swings, rags and boogies into motion. And we’re loving it.

We were hooked by the music, alright—starting boldly with “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” But the “electric, visual voice” of Turn of the Century, a custom-made 36-foot diameter LED (light-emitting diode) screen forms a circular portal on stage that becomes a character itself. Used to communicate time and place, energy and tension, it speaks about Y2K (remember it?), gas at $1.40, and other New Year’s Eve topics. And then it disarmingly comments on the entire show.

Dixie talks to a young Irving Berlin

Add to this a 12-year old, adorable, sweet Irving Berlin who’s about to have his future hijacked, an ensemble of singers and dancers on a most unpredictable evolving stage and you’ve got it all: music, dancing, tension, romance, intrigue. Loaded with galloping good times and god-awful decisions based on—yes! you guessed it—reality. It sweeps you away. So, when you fingers aren’t snappin’ and your toes aren’t tappin’, you’re wringing your hands worrying about our heroes and our songwriters.

The performances, the predicaments, the playfulness of this show abound. How did they manage to squeeze it all into a mere 100 minutes? See it and maybe you’ll know.

Turn of the Century is playing now through November 2, 2008 at the Goodman Theater at 170 North Dearborn in Chicago, IL. For tickets or more information, please visit www.GoodmanTheater.org or call the theater box office at 312.443.3800.

Published on Dec 31, 1969

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