The screwball antics of On the Twentieth Century, a comedy about a vain theater director (Peter Gallagher) and his former protégé (Kristin Chenoweth), take place all aboard the 20th Century Limited, a 1938 passenger train that whisked travelers between Chicago and New York. For director Scott Ellis’s Broadway revival of the classic, David Rockwell designed an elaborate show curtain and movable train carriages that convey speed and opulence.
How do you move a high-speed passenger train from the tracks to the stage?
Poster art of the time inspired the forced perspective show curtain.
The train’s visual language mirrors the Streamline Moderne language and Henry Dreyfuss’s design for the 1938 20th Century train.
Lavish furniture and décor shows how the passengers were pampered.
The term “red carpet treatment” originated with the real 20th Century locomotive, so we echoed that sentiment on stage.
“One of the things I was intrigued by was the notion of dynamic movement and opulence.”
For inspiration, we pored over images of the mid-1930s trains.
The train interior had to allow the actors as much variety and freedom of movement as possible.
Not only can the train rotate and track up- and down-stage, it can also move transversely across the stage. It rotates 180° to reveal the inside of the cars.
The musical includes 10 versions of the train of all different sizes: One clocks in at 33 feet long and 13,000 pounds!