Theatre Mirror Reviews "Thoroughly Modern Millie"


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents copyright 2013 by Tony Annicone

"Thoroughly Modern Millie"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone
Encore Summer Stock's production is "Thoroughly Modern Millie", which won six 2002 Tony Award's for best musical. The musical takes place in New York City in 1922 and tells the story of Millie Dillmount, who has just moved from Kansas to the city in search of a new life for herself. She follows her dreams where she wants to find romance, adventure and above all fun. It's a New York full of intrigue and jazz, a time when women were entering the workforce when the rules of love and social behavior were changing forever. Based on the popular 1967 movie starring Julie Andrews, the stage version includes a full score of new songs and bright dance numbers. It is filled with frisky flappers, dashing leading men and a dragon-lady of a villainess audiences will love to hate. This show displays the excitement and exuberance of the Jazz Age with its fantastic 1920's music and breathtaking dances of that era. Director Meaghan Bruneault captures the essence of New York in 1920's with wonderful music direction by John Henry Burns and choreographer Kathy Fortier's inventive dance numbers that leave the audience cheering this talented cast from start to finish earning them a standing ovation at curtain call.

Meaghan blocks the show very well, making sure the whole audience can observe the performers. John's orchestra is excellent from start to finish especially the brass section who really sells the jazzy 1920's score. Kathy's splendid dance numbers include the Charleston, tap dance, jazz, and some typewriter dancing, too. Lisa Ziniti, a gorgeous brunette, plays the title role of Millie Dillmount which is like Sweet Charity who looks for love in all the wrong places. She is a multitalented young actress who definitely deserves the standing ovation awarded her at the close of the show. Lisa displays her beautiful singing voice in ballads as well as her belting voice in the best song of the show called "Gimme, Gimme" where she finally realizes love is the most important ingredient in a relationship. This number is reminiscent 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 in the big city. Lisa's songs include "Not For the Life of Me" about her never going back home, "Thoroughly Modern Millie" where she leads the chorus as she swiftly changes into a flapper, complete with short skirt and bobbed hair, and the beautiful ballad, "Jimmy" where she realizes the man she has been pursuing is the wrong man for her. She displays her range in this song as well as in the duet, "I Turned the Corner". Lisa also leads the chorus girls in a comic tap dance number called "Forget About the Boy" and a wild drunken dance song called "The Nuttycracker Suite" based on the music of Tchaikovsky. I first worked with Lisa back in 1998 in "The Fantasticks" at Mill River and she has grown from ingenue and has developed into a terrific leading lady Brava on a job well done.

  Iah Kinley plays Jimmy Smith who Millie forces to help her on her first day in NYC after she gets mugged. Jimmy hides a secret which the audience learns about later in the show after he realizes he must give up his playboy ways after falling in love with Millie. His strong tenor voice soars in "I Turned the Corner" and the quartet version of "I'm Falling in Love with Someone" while he first displays his terrific singing prowess in the prison song called "What Do I Need with Love?". Cassie Jones, another gorgeous brunette plays the extremely wealthy, Muzzy Van Hossmere, the toast of New York. Her first song is a bluesy number called "Only in New York" while her second song is a dance number with the boys called "Long as I'm Here with You". Cassie is a hoot when she is disguised in a Bo Peep style outfit while pretending to be a long lost orphan. Tyler Begnoche plays Millie's very handsome and rich boss, Trevor Graydon. He tests her skills in "The Speed Test'' which is an updated version of "Modern Major General" written by Gilbert and Sullivan. The chorus girls do an hilarious dance number with their typewriters. His strong tenor voice is also heard in "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life" and "I'm Falling in Love with Someone" by Richard Rodgers. Tyler is very comical as this pompous stuffed shirt who finally is taught a lesson at the end of the show. There is a very funny dance to the love song with his true love, Miss Dorothy played by Cassie Knipper. She is wonderful as the rich, naive girl who wants to be poor. Cassie's glorious soprano voice soars in her duets "How the Other Half Lives" with Millie and the love song with Trevor. She also displays her dancing ability in the chorus numbers and a tap dance with Lisa but it is her acting as this dippy young California actress that will keep you laughing at her. 

One of the biggest scene stealer is Ashley Dougan as Mrs. Meers, a disguised Chinese landlady who is really an ex-con, white slave trader. Her Chinese accent is hilarious and her antics as this dragon lady are wild and over the top. Her first song, "They Don't Know" reveals her true identity to the audience as she believes she is the best actress in the world. Her second number is "Muguin" done with her two Chinese sidekicks. There is a video screen which translates the lyrics "Mammy" as well as the Chinese dialogue, too. Ashley is splendid with her comic character acting prowess. Two hidden comic gems in this high energy show are Gian DiCostanzo as Ching Ho and Adam Landry as Bun Foo. Ching Ho has a secret crush on Miss Dorothy and Bun Foo is his bossy brother. Their acting and singing in Chinese are laugh out loud moments. Another wonderful charcter is Miss Flannery played by Erika Pastel. She wears a red Marge Simpson type wig and smokes a cigar. Flannery is Trevor's office manager. She leads the girls in a tap dance in "Forget About the Boy" in Act 2. Erica's comic lines roll off her tongue with ease, winning her a multitude of laughter. Kudos to the entire cast and crew who makes this a production to be very proud of. So for a trip back to the rip roaring 1920's, be sure to catch "Thoroughly Modern Millie" at the Stadium Theatre before the cast dances out of town.

"Thoroughly Modern Millie" (16 - 18 August)
@ Stadium Theatre, Monument Square, WOONSOCKET RI

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide