REVIEWED BY DONNA BAILEY-THOMPSON
WHAT'S NOT TO LOVE ABOUT THIS SHOW?
Thoroughly Modern Millie may be a Roaring Twenties period piece but it's as fresh now as when it first delighted audiences back in 1965 (as a movie musical starring Julie Andrews, nominated for seven Academy Awards and five Golden Globes) and in 2002 as a musical play (based upon the movie), winning six Tony Awards. Described as a pastiche (borrowed components, or think of a crazy quilt), the play is bright, playful, with enough nutty goings on to generate giggles and guffaws.
This is a fun show.
There is nothing tedious about the expected recitation prior to curtain of the plea to turn off cell phones, et cetera, because the words are spoken in Chinese. A projection flashes the English translation. Throughout the show, Ching Ho (David Webster) and Bun Foo (Grant Kuehl) are the source of running gags. One delivers a line that gets a huge laugh. (You'll know it when you hear it.)
The setting is New York City, the time is the early Twenties. Determined women have, they think, emancipated themselves -- bobbed hair, short skirts -- but otherwise remain dependent upon a man for their identity. None more so than Millie who has fled Kansas for NYC where she intends to marry a wealthy businessman. She walks on the stage wearing flapper-flavor attire, awed by the Manhattan skyline. When she turns towards the audience, within nano seconds she is no longer a Kansas hick but Millie -- resolute, energized. As Milllie, Dylan Rae Brown owns the stage. She sings, dances, and acts with skill, wit, endowed with It, that special ingredient that can lift a good performer into the realm of genuine stardom. As she continues studying for her BFA in Musical Theater at the University of the Arts, theater lovers can hope she'll have time to squeeze in performances at Pioneer Valley venues.
Millie and Jimmy (Paul P.J. Adzima) collide and verbally tangle during the first scene when Millie discovers a crowd provided cover for the stealing of her hat, suitcases, money and one shoe. The sparring of Millie and Jimmy comes across as spontaneous, authentic, so now at Exit 7 there are two stage-savvy actors: this fall, P.J. heads for Marymount Manhattan College to major in Theatre Arts and minor in Musical Theatre.
Jimmy assumes that Millie has come to NYC to break into show business. He recommends an inn where an absence of money doesn’t seem to preclude getting a room. That’s because the proprietor, Mrs. Meers (the incomparable Pat Haynes) masquerading as an Oriental, operates a White Slave business by drugging girls who can’t pay their rent and dispatching them to China.
Millie lands a steno job working for an eligible bachelor, Mr. Trevor Graydon (Jeff Clayton, who mines his character to a fare-thee-well, almost bringing down the house). One of the tenants who can’t pay her rent faces a fate worse than death – Miss Dorothy (the beguiling Katie Clark in her 14th Exit 7 show). As the exuberant Muzzy Van Hossmere, Kathy Renaud belts out tunes while simultaneously honoring demanding choreography.
Everything except the kitchen sink seems to find a niche. There’s an elevator that works only if the passengers tap dance. A glimpse of unfair labor practices is represented in the typing pool of women wearing shirt dresses who are docked $1.00 for a typo – a significant bite out of their hourly wage. There are moments when it seems as if Gilbert & Sullivan composed the music or that Vaudeville has intruded.
A possible summary of this bubbling show is the line, “A lot can happen in seven days. Just read The Bible!” Indeed, there are 27 musical numbers supported by choreography (Amy Bouchard) that complement the music, especially The Speed Test: the typists at their little desks tap dance in place, including the punctuation. When celebrants at a speakeasy are arrested and jailed, the mood lighting (Frank Croke) of slanted bars accentuates the depth of the cell. The set designs (Sue Crowther, Kim Lynch) suggest a room or a street; the costumes (Judy Hemmingway, Mary Jane Disco) suggest the fashions of the time. Accompanist Jean Aldrich-Jones’ alertness keeps the music coming. Director Kim Lynch has brought this delightful romp from read-through to performance sparkling with a light touch that belies the dedicated work of crew and cast.
For any questions about the show, please call 413.583.4301
or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, Attention: Thoroughly Modern Millie.