Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Thoroughly Modern Millie"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Carl A. Rossi


"THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE"

book by Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan
new music by Jeanine Tesori; new lyrics by Dick Scanlan
original story and screenplay by Richard Morris, for the Universal Pictures Film
directed by Frank Roberts and Troy Magino
choreographed by Troy Magino,
based upon the original Broadway production directed by
Michael Mayer and choreographedy by Rob Ashford
musical direction by Rick Scalese

Millie Dillmount … Eden Riegel
Jimmy Smith … Andy McLeavey
Ruth … De Anne Dubin
Gloria … Shanna Heverly
Rita … Ashley Alana Kenney
Alice … Stacey Sund
Ethel Peas … Jackie Comisar
Cora … Lisa Bergeron
Lucille … Laura Headrick
Mrs. Meers … Maryann Zschau
Miss Dorothy Brown … Siobhaun Maus
Ching Ho … Arthur Kwan
Bun Foo … Sage Park
Miss Flannery … Ellen Peterson
Mr. Trevor Graydon … Edward Watts
Speed Tappists … Matthew J. Schneider and Victor J. Wisehart
The Pearl Lady … Dani Center
The Letch … Matthew J. Schneider
Officer … Richard Allegretto
Muzzy Van Hossmere … Janelle Anne Robinson
George Gershwin … David Dabbon
Dorothy Parker … De Anne Dubin
Rodney … M. Zach Bubilo
Dishwashers … Timothy Grady and Ashley Kenney

MUZZY’S BOYS:
M. Zach Bubolo; David Dabbon; Thomas Gibbons;
Paul Reynolds; Matthew J. Schneider; Victory J. Wiseheart

Daphne … Suzanne Neuman
Dexter … Paul Reynolds
New Modern … Rachel Goldberg

ENSEMBLE:

Lisa Bergeron; M. Zach Bubolo; Dani Center; Kai Chao;
Jackie Comisar; David Dabbon; De Anne Dubin; Thomas Gibbons;
Rachel Goldberg; Timothy Grady; Laura Headrick; Shanna Heverly;
Ashley Alana Kenney; Suzanne Neuman; Paul Reynolds;
Stacey Sund; Matthew J. Schneider; Victor J. Wiseheart

If you attended the Reagle Players’ production of THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE, you will agree that you had seen a heavenly entertainment; for those who are already reaching for the phone or the mouse, the show will have closed by the time you read these scribbles. I have yet to view the similarly-named film musical on which this MILLIE is based but assume that much of the plot is similar: Millie Dillmount, a small-town girl, comes to 1920s New York, bobs her hair and sets her heart upon marrying her boss Trevor Graydon because it is the Modern Thing to Do; she ends up in the arms of smooth-talking Jimmy Smith, with whom she has shared a mutual antagonism; the subplot involves a white slave racket run by the comical villainess Mrs. Meers who moonlights as the proprietress of an all-women hotel --- the musical retains a few numbers from the film and bolsters them with new songs and old-time standards (you can tell the new ones by all those long, soaring notes).

Last year’s North Shore production was slick but mechanical as if all involved were reluctant to take such fluff, seriously; the Reagle production was shot through with giddy charm and seeing it on a proscenium stage reinforced how nostalgic MILLIE is in its structure with its reprises, its characters performing before a drop curtain while the set is changed behind them and, in two numbers, capturing what old-time musicals were once all about: a lovely, slow dance between Millie and Jimmy out on a window ledge, of all places, and a brilliantly simple rendition of “Mammy” which to describe any further would only destroy its joyous impact. The program mentioned that the Reagle production was based on the original Broadway staging; having missed the latter I cannot compare but I will say that director Frank Roberts and choreographer Troy Magino kept their MILLIE crisp and clever, especially Mr. Magino’s dances which varied between good, honest hoofing and wholesome courtship and were light years away from the sweaty athleticism that now dominates today’s choreography; whether they were borrowed or newly minted there were amusing bits scattered throughout, such as a pair of flappers posing for a mug shot as if it were a publicity shoot or the graven Trevor prancing about in love’s rapture as if Mt. Rushmore had suddenly sprouted wings. The Reagle ensemble was near-perfect in both tree and forest; the “near” resulting from Eden Riegel’s Millie being far too strident in her singing, doubly painful from being overly miked; Ms. Riegel’s voice is in the American Idol mould, strong on floored notes but lacking in tenderness or warmth, and her Millie was calculated in her cuteness whereas the young woman should be such a breathless romantic at heart that she shouldn’t realize how cute she is, but Ms. Riegel made up with her dancing, be it tap or ballroom --- the North Shore’s Millie fell along similar lines, singing/dancing-wise.

The Reagle cast boasted two (count ‘em, two!) sterling leading men, Andy McLeavey (Jimmy) and Edward Watts (Trevor), with the former’s banker-appearance a deceptive sheath for some dynamic vocalizing and the latter, a walking Arrow Shirt ad filled with ringing tones --- may they both remain in the Boston area to squire our numerous leading ladies. Siobhaun Maus was an adorable Miss Dorothy Brown, the secondary heroine with the sausage curls and operetta mannerisms, played sweetly not campily, and Janelle Anne Robinson stopped the show twice as Muzzy, the speakeasy owner with a heart of gold and a booming set of pipes --- when I attended, Ms. Robinson’s body-mike failed her within seconds of her first number yet she made herself heard quite clearly, nevertheless. Arthur Kwan and Sage Park were just as good as the North Shore’s comic henchmen, perhaps better since they clearly had fun with their stereotypes.

Last, but far from least, was Maryann Zschau’s Mrs. Meers who, for me, was the reason to attend the Reagle production. Ms. Zschau, Boston’s one-woman brass band, has begun to expand her repertoire with character roles; her Penelope Pennywise in the Lyric Stage’s URINETOWN resulted in my (mentally) casting her in Brecht & Weill; as Mrs. Meers, Ms. Zschau dazzled as singer, actress and vaudevillian all rolled into one, wrapped in that one ingredient that cannot be taught --- Presence --- and she had a ball, to boot. This was a performance of Broadway-caliber --- “Broadway” in a commendatory sense --- and I shall happily fill my mind-theatre with other casting coups: Ms. Zschau as Madame Arcati in HIGH SPIRITS (the musicalization of BLITHE SPIRIT), for starters. Ms. Zschau has made me laugh; now I want her to make me cry --- I still think she would be ideal as the downtrodden mother in THE EFFECT OF GAMMA RAYS ON MAN-IN-THE-MOON MARIGOLDS which would balance her bravura style with a vulnerable, dramatic one. Since Ms. Zschau is taking chances, I don’t see why producers and directors shouldn’t, as well, and recharge both actress and Boston-area theatre, repeatedly.

Thrice have I scoured through the Reagle program and cannot find any orchestra personnel; suffice it to say, the MILLIE orchestra under the direction of Rick Scalese was golden --- those Bostonians who missed out on this short-lived production and are gnashing their teeth can only blame themselves for either traveling the well-worn paths to certain box offices or for rarely being caught at the theatre in the first place. This time, with MILLIE, it was clearly their loss --- for seven performances, Broadway really did come to Boston. Truly.

"Thoroughly Modern Millie" (19-23 July)
REAGLE PLAYERS --- 38th Season
Robinson Theatre, 617 Lexington Street, WALTHAM, MA
1 (781) 891-5600

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide

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