Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Thoroughly Modern Millie"

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entire contents copyright 2008 by Tony Annicone

"Thoroughly Modern Millie"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

LaSalle Players current show is "Thoroughly Modern Millie" which won six Tony Awards for Best Musical in 2002 and is based on the 1960's movie with the same name. The show takes place in 1922 and is the story of a small town girl from Kansas who follows her dreams to New York where she wants to marry a rich man and decides love will have nothing to do with it. However she finds romance, adventure and above all fun. This show displays the excitement and exuberance of the Jazz Age with its fantastic 1920's music and breathtaking dances of that era. With a wonderful two story set and gorgeous costumes of the era, director Brother Michael McKenery captures the essence of New York in the 1920's with his associate director Tom Haynes, wonderful music and choral direction by Paula Fontes, band director Brian Brouillard and choreographer Cindy LoSasso's inventive dance numbers leaving the audience cheering these 62 multitalented high school students from start to finish, earning them a standing ovation at the close of the show. Bravo!

Brother Michael has the show open with the entire cast entering the two story set from all entrance points where they strike a pose before they do an energetic group Charleston number with the dancers being all in unison. The show is a choreographer's dream come true with all styles of dances including excellent tap numbers, Charleston, the shimmie, jazz numbers and a hilarious type writer tap dance while the whole chorus is typing on invisible type writers and Cindy's are fabulous. (The colorful set is by Larry McCutcheon and Carl Suffoletto with the magnificent costumes by David Cabral (from Providence College) The young people's voices blend well in a harmonic balance under Paula's tutelage while high school student Michael Gebhart tickles the ivories perfectly during the show with an eight piece orchestra conducted by Brian. Pretty brunette Tiia Groden first enters with long hair and long, returning seconds later with a bob and short modern skirt, plays the title role of Millie Dillmount which is like Sweet Charity who looks for love in all the wrong places. (Julie Andrews played this role in the movie.) She is a triple threat performer who can act, dance and sing awesomely and she well deserves her thunderous ovation at the curtain call. Tiia gets to show off her beautiful singing voice in ballads as well as her belting voice in the best number of the show called "Gimme, Gimme" where she finally realizes that love is the most important ingredient in a relationship not wealth. (This comes after a heartfelt discussion with Muzzy) This socko number reminds you of a Judy Garland song. Millie's modern philosophy is that a woman chooses the man she wants to marry and that's that, showing her naivete as a small town girl from Kansas into the big city in New York. Tiia's opening number is "Not for the Life of Me" where she proclaims she will never go home again, "Thoroughly Modern Millie" is the show stopping dance number where she leads the chorus as she changes into her beautiful red flapper costume with bobbed hair. A sentimental ballad "Jimmy" ends Act 1 where she realizes the man she has been pursuing is the wrong man for her. She gets to show off her range in this song as well as in the duet "I Turned the Corner". Tiia leads the chorus in a comic tap number called "Forget About the Boy" where the girls relate to Millie's predicament by naming their boyfriends name in the song, and in a wild drunken song called "The Nutty Cracker Suite" based on the music of Tchaikovsky. Brava.

Sean Walsh, tall red head, plays Jimmy Smith who Millie forces to help her on her first day in New York after she gets mugged. He hides a secret which the audience learns about later in the show. Jimmy realizes he must give up his playboy ways after falling in love with Millie. His glorious tenor voice soars in "I Turned the Corner", the quartet version of "Falling in Love with Someone" ( Brother Michael has the 4 performers stand in opposite ends of the theatre to sing this Richard Rodgers ballad) while in he displays his dancing ability in several numbers including the Gene Kelly inspired song after they are arrested at the speakeasy, "What Do I Need with Love?". Gabrielle Whitney, a cute blonde who I first reviewed in Christmas Carol many years ago, plays the wealthy, Muzzy Van Hossmere, the Toast of New York. Her first song is a bluesy number called "Only in New York" where she is hosting a drunken party. She shows off her strong singing voice in that song while she dances up a storm with the chorus boys who are dressed in multicolered sweaters in "Long as I Am Here with You". (The guys do some athletic moves during this number.) Gabi is a hoot when she disguises herself as a young orphan trying to catch the evil white slavery ringleader. Daniel Tracy who is tall, dark and handsome plays Trevor Graydon, Millie's very haughty, rich boss. (Daniel recently played Troy in High School Musical with LaSalle Players and he shows off his dancing skills in this show, too) Trevor tests her typing skills in "The Speed Test" which is an updated version of "Modern Major General" written by Arthur Sullivan. The chorus pretends to type and tap dance in their chairs while the mean Miss Flannery(hilariously played by Molly Nocera) punishes the slacker typists. His strong baritone voice is also heard in "Ah Sweet Mystery of Life" and "Falling in Love with Someone". He is very funny as this stuffed shirt who loves smoking a pipe, falls in love at first sight with Miss Dorothy. Allison Russo, another pretty brunette, plays Miss Dorothy the naive rich girl who wants to be poor. Her lovely soprano voice soars in her duets "How the Other Half Lives" with Tiia as they tap dance to make the elevator go up in the old building and in the love songs with Daniel. Allison gets to show off her dancing ability in the chorus numbers but it is her acting as the California actress that will have you laughing all night long.

One of the biggest scene stealers in this show is Regina Lutskly as Mrs. Meers a disguised Chinese landlady who is really an excon who also was an actress in her youth. Her Chinese accent is hilarious as is her Bronx accent when she is on the phone with Buddha and she is butterfly. Regina's antics as this dragon lady are wild and over the top and her song "You Don't Know" reveals her true identity to the audience as she sings and dances that her character believes she is the best actress in the world. Her second number "Muquin" is done with her two Chinese sidekicks which stops the show with its hilarity. There is a video screen that shows the lyrics to this song which is the Chinese version of "Mammy". (The screen also sets the location of each scene as well as the Chinese dialogue by the two brothers.) Colin Whitney who I first reviewed as Jo Jo in "Seussical" is Gabi's real life brother and he had to spray his blond hair black to portray Ching Ho who has a secret crush on Miss Dorothy, and keeps on trying to rescue her. Vincent Lee plays his brother Bun Foo. They are two hidden gems in this high energy show. Their laugh out loud moments are given by their acting, singing and dancing. in Chinese. Kudos to the entire cast and crew of this show. They make it a memorable one with their many talents. So for a trip back to the carefree days of the 1920's, be sure to catch "Thoroughly Modern Millie" at LaSalle Academy before time runs out.(A word of praise for stage managers, Dan Miele and Justin Reis who keep this enormous show running smoothly from start to finish.)

"Thoroughly Modern Millie" (3 - 6 December)
LaSalle Academy, 612 Academy Avenue, PROVIDENCE RI
1 (401) 351-7750 ext. 183

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide