‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’- a feel-good show livens up Goodspeed Musicals stage

Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam, Connecticut opened its 2017 season recently with the light and frothy Broadway hit Thoroughly Modern Millie. This song and dance-filled musical comedy, running through July 2, is a feel-good look at the flapper-era zaniness circa 1922. With all the modern girls in New York raising their skirts and bobbing their hair, little Millie arrives from Kansas determined to transform herself into a flapper, get a job, marry her boss, and live happily ever after. Taylor Quick (a real-life small town girl) plays Millie with verve, a big belting voice, and lots of sparkle and shine in her high stepping dance numbers.

Instead of immediately finding a wealthy beau, Millie reluctantly falls for a charming but poor lad, and spurns his earnest intentions in a ‘Doris Day indignant’ way – so that she can fulfill her dream of riches. Dan DeLuca plays the enthusiastic Jimmy Smith who is determined to make Millie his own. Likeable Mr. DeLuca dances and sings with effervescent style and grace.

The title song opening number “Thoroughly Modern Millie” sets the stage for the tuneful, dance-filled pastiche to come, and a mixture of standard tunes and new songs with music by Jeanine Tesori and lyrics by Dick Scanlan are enhanced by the brilliantly enthusiastic choreography of Denis Jones, who also directs the show. (Mr. Jones also directed the Goodspeed and Broadway hit productions of Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn).

The story is often fun and convoluted – featuring a runaway heiress (lovely Samantha Sturm as Miss Dorothy); an evil Bloody-Mary-style Chinese landlady (played with a gleefully sinister cackle by Loretta Ables Sayre); and two of her reluctant henchmen, Bun Foo (Christopher Shin) and Ching Ho (James Seol).

The show received the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2002, but the book, by Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan, with lots of madcap comings and goings, slows the pace of the spirited action whenever the tedious dialogue between Millie and Jimmy drones on and on.  It was easy enough to rest one’s eyes while the actors were forced to babble endlessly reciting Morris and Scanlan’s banal words.

Edward Watts as Millie’s boss Trevor Graydon gives an over-the-top performance, especially in songs in the style of  Gilbert and Sullivan and Victor Herbert operettas. Ramona Keller plays a glamourous socialite/singer Muzzy Van Hossmere, the toast of New York, and her style, delivery and luscious voice have you wanting more.  Lucia Spina plays Miss Flannery, the dreaded office manager, with a tough/funny appeal that gives her character enough vulnerability to be almost likeable!

It’s the songs and dances that make this show the fun cotton candy evening that it is. One will leave the theater humming the title song as well as “Forget About The Boy,” “I’m Falling In Love With Someone,” “Mammy” (alone worth the price of a ticket) and “Jimmy.” And the dance numbers are inspired -from the opening ensemble at Pennsylvania Station to the office workers dancing at their typewriters at the Sincere Trust Insurance Company. Cheers to the entire cast. (Be sure to consult the playbill that the ushers hand you to see photos and bios of every delightful actor/dancer/singer in this production.)

Not only is the Scenic Design by Paul Tate dePoo III a wonderfully colorful lavender/blue homage to the Art Deco era, but his cleverly designed window ledge set places the action of one scene high above the New York skyline. When Mr. dePoo and Lighting Designer Rob Denton collaborated on the special illusion of the Hotel Priscilla’s elevator’s quick rise from street level to the 12th floor, they achieved theatrical magic. Equally effective, and adding to the fun, is the “closed captioning” high above the action, simultaneously translating into English the Chinese conversations between Ching Ho and Bun Foo. The Beijing Opera was never like this.

Gregory Gale’s colorful costumes recreate the glamor of the flapper era, in both dresses and headgear – especially in Muzzy’s gorgeous gowns and in Millie’s red frock. Mark Adam Rampmeyer once again works his magic and skill into his Hair and Wig Design – the bobbed hairdos of the girls are delightfully authentic. And, returning for the 31st season is Sound Designer Jay Hilton, who always skillfully makes certain that every word can be heard, and every note is pleasing to the ear.

Music Director for Thoroughly Modern Millie is the maestro Michael O’Flaherty, who is in his 26th season as Goodspeed’s Resident Music Director. William J. Thomas once again is Assistant Music Director, while Orchestrations are being provided by Dan DeLange, who has created the orchestrations for over 40 Goodspeed productions.

In these times of turmoil and trouble, it’s delightful to sit back for a couple of hours and just enjoy sheer bubbly entertainment.  With singing and dancing like this, you’ll forget the outside world -t hanks to the team of musical theater professionals at Goodspeed Musicals.

Thoroughly Modern Millie will run through July 2. Curtain times are Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m. (with select performances at 2:00 p.m.), Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. (with select performances at 6:30 p.m.). Tickets are available through the Box Office (860-873-8668), open seven days a week, or online at goodspeed.org. For show highlights, exclusive photos, special events and more, visit goodspeed.org  or follow Goodspeed Musicals on  Facebook, Twitter @goodspeedmusicl, Instagram and YouTube.

By Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle, Members Connecticut Critics Circle.

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