Thoroughly Modern Millie, Book by Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan (based on the film by Richard Morris), lyrics by Dick Scanlan, Music by Jeanine Tesori. Directed by Denis Jones. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
"Forget About the Boy" sings Miss Flannery (Lucia Spina) and Millie Dilmount (Taylor Quick) at the top of Act Two; photo: Diane Sobolewski
"No use pretending. . .I never could."
Dan DeLuca as Jimmy and Taylor Quick as Millie; photo: Diane Sobolewski
"Forget about the boy, Dilmount. Get yourself a canary." Words that office manager Miss Flannery spits out to young Millie Dilmount whose love-life has gone sour at the end of "Thoroughly Modern Millie"'s first act spawn a terrific act two opening number in this stage musical version of the classic movie that starred Julie Andrews as a spunky mid-western gal who sets out to conquer Manhattan back in 1922, and not just conquer but romantically provide a top-earning husband to boot. Millie's quest, the friendships that grow in her milieu, the white slavery ring she defeats, and her genuine American spunk are delightfully realized in this new production of the 2002 Broadway hit that literally gave birth, in classic 1930s Warner Bros. movie style, to a star, Sutton Foster, who replaced the lead with only a few days notice.
This production is filled with talented women and men, handsome creatures and fascinating devils all, who entertain in a familiar story that holds amazing surprises. While the songs don't rival the film's own hyper-hit score, the new songs by Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan do move the show into the true and honest realm of stage show finesse. There is certainly no lack of toe-tappers and hand-slappers. Melodies ripple and the two mega-hits we all recall are still in place: the title tune and the ballad, "Jimmy."
Millie still finds Jimmy attractive and he does still scale an art deco building (designed wonderfully by Paul Tate dePoo II) to woo her. What's more they still dance the roof-ledge away and make us love every moment of it. Taylor Quick's Millie dazzles Dan DeLuca's Jimmy and their "meet-cute" moment is a show-stopper, literally. As with almost all of the characters in this stage play Jimmy is not the boy we knew, not the man we adored. He is brasher, ruder, more a New Yorker as we like to think of New Yorkers. This Millie is quicker, spunkier, more challenging in a modern manner than Andrews' original. And yet in the talented hands of DeLuca and Quick they are still the same loveable pair we recall and relive through our DVD collection whenever we need them.
The other side of the coin in the romance marketplace is inhabited by Millie's boss, Mr. Trevor Graydon and her new best friend Miss Dorothy Brown from California. When they meet in front of Millie's desk it is early twentieth century lust as embodied by the musical melodies of Victor Herbert: "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life" and "I'm Falling in Love with Someone", both out of the Victor Light Opera Company recorded arrangements from "Naughty Marietta," a genteel comedy with operetta music. It is glorious to watch Samantha Sturm and Edward Watts fall so deep in love that one incomplete date later he is despondent and drunk and she is a waylaid, forlorn lady being rescued by an unanticipated emancipated slaver. His beauty and her grace make their love-relationship a glory to behold. Watts acts the role with a grandeur that belies emotion and Sturm brings a turn-of-the-century wonderment to her vision of gentility. Paired they are delicious, like strawberries and cream with a sherry based sauce. Individually they have found their way into a century of difference from anything we would ordinarily experience when love and lust present themselves hand-in-hand. I loved what they did, how they did it and all that goes with a dessert confection interpretation of human interfacing.
They're contribution to the evening is nothing short of miraculous as is the appearance of Muzzy Van Hasswmere, a wealthy widow whose weeds are as white as crystal beads. Played by Ramona Keller, this Muzzy makes the most of the fabulous monologues originally written for Carol Channing. Keller makes them real notes on a relationship, not a mockery but a reality. To hear some of my favorite lines converted from silliness to sultriness, from incredible to a different sort of incredible was, indeed, incredible. Where once I giggled, this time around I felt a heart-string being tugged by some outside force. Muzzy's songs have also gone from hilarious to enhumbling.
Samantha Sturm as Miss Dorothy, Millie, and Edward Watts as Trevor Graydon; photo: Diane Sobolewski
Christopher Shin, Loretta Ables Sayre, James Seol; photo: Diane Sobolewski
As for the three villains (not counting the invisible "Buddha") the white slavers are played by Loretta Ables Sayre (Mrs. Mears), Christopher Shin (Ban Foo), and James Seol (Chung Ho). Both men deliver their only-in-Chinese dialogue with a rational wholesomeness that belies their actual profession while their boss, Mrs. Mears, manages to speak English in a dialect unknown heretofore. She is a surprise. Her racial qualities extend into the oblivious and as she works her way through the plot, she is a constant set of elegant contradictions and she is funny to boot. Chung Ho's passions are adorable to behold and the final mating of Bun Foo with his inevitable opposite is one of the best jokes of the evening. I could watch these three for hours and never be bored.
Lucia Spina appeared almost too too solid flesh for Miss Flannery, but she quickly put her film counterpart out of my head and he ferocity was a constant delight. The large company took on their roles with a determination that fit right in with the period depicted and some of them in their brief moments and solos proved that once again this company does not stint in its casting. Not one person seemed out of place in this excellent company.
Directed and choreographed by the supremely talented Denis Jones the whole show has a perfectly 1922 sensibility and yet there is never a moment that doesn't seem completely accessible to a modern audience. His work here allows for exaggeration, total reality and high camp all at the same time. As for his dances, there is a simplicity in complex patterns that makes each number enjoyable for itself alone. This is a true human enhancement in a company of artists who follow his exceptional lead into the realm of pure joy.
Playing through July 2 this show has an excellent chance at entertaining everyone who hears about it. In addition to the work cited above the production itself, transforming this lovely theater into the art-deco glory of a Ziegfeld house, has a chance to really shine. Paul Tate dePoo's settings are little jewel boxes and the costumes by Gregory Gale are perfect fits for the characters who wear them. Rob Denton's lighting design sets off both the gems and their setting to perfection while Mark Adam Rampmeyer's wigs and hair designs complete the period pictures perfectly.
If you love this movie, as I do, let down your marcelled hair and take a chance on the stage edition of "Thoroughly Modern Millie." You may exhibit symptoms of qualmus deductus, a 1920's ailment centered on bootleg gin and its dubious sources, but by the time you are totally drunk on music, dance, romance and fun, all your qualms, all your assumptions will be swept away by the talent that makes up this fun, fun, funny musical show.
Thoroughly Modern Millie plays at Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam, CT through July 2. For information and tickets go to www.goodspeed.org or call the box office at 860-873-2329.