For a Broadway hit that won six Tony awards (including Best Musical of 2002), Thoroughly Modern Millie has made relatively few Southland appearances in the intervening twelve years, just one of many reasons to celebrate the Thoroughly Modern (circa 1922) Miss’s arrival at Glendale Centre Theatre under the thoroughly marvelous co-direction of Danny Michaels and Orlando Alexander.
Movie buffs will recall Millie Dilmount’s 1967 screen debut with Julie Andrews in the title role, while musical theater aficionados will tell you that Millie made her Broadway debut thirty-five years later, with new songs by Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan and a lead performance that won Sutton Foster the Tony and scored Richard Morris and Scanlan a Best Book Tony as well.
Allyson Spiegelman now steps into superstars Andrews’ and Foster’s shoes as a small-town girl freshly arrived in 1920s New York with dreams of big city success not unlike 42nd Street’s Peggy Sawyer, though in Millie’s case, it’s not show biz she means to conquer but the heart of her rich and handsome new boss Trevor Graydon (Kelby Thwaits). Boy-next-door type Jimmy Smith (Jason Webb) might seem an equal candidate for Millie’s heart if he weren’t poor as a church mouse—and as irritating as all get out—but Millie is nothing if not determined, and besides, if a girl is going to fall in love, she might as well fall for a rich man, right?
Millie’s new best friend in the big city is aspiring actress Miss Dorothy Brown (Deanna Bakker), who like Millie has found cheap lodging at the Hotel Priscilla, a boarding house for single girls run by “Oriental” dragon lady Mrs. Meers (Alison England), aka Daisy Crumpler, whose real business is a more sinister one—selling lodgers without next of kin into white slavery. Since Miss Dorothy (and don’t you dare forget the “Miss”) is an orphan, who better to become Mrs. Meers’ next victim?
Completing the cast of principal players are the authentically Chinese duo of Ching Ho and Bun Foo (Anton Garsola and Hisato Masuyama), whom Mrs. Meers has blackmailed into serving as her henchmen, and the wealthy, glamorous widow slash cabaret singer Muzzy van Hossmere (Julia Marie Rodriguez), soon to become Millie’s friend and ally.
Will Millie be able to snag her boss? Will Miss Dorothy escape the clutches of Mrs. Meers? Will Jimmy convince Millie to choose true love over fortune-hunting? Will the police catch up with the criminal with the worst Chinese accent in town? The answers are, of course, to be found by the show’s final curtain, but not before a couple dozen songs get sung, a bunch of dances get danced, and Ching Ho and Bun Foo learn some useful English phrases.
Co-directors Michaels and Alexander have mastered the unique challenges of arena staging, a feat displayed throughout Thoroughly Modern Millie, performers making sure to play to all four sides, a “musical chairs” scene between Millie, Trevor, and Jimmy offering a particularly precision-timed example of directorial expertise.
It’s hard to imagine a more delightful, delicious, or de-lovely Millie than the one brought to thoroughly delectable life by Glendale Centre Theatre newcomer Spiegelman, who not only sings gorgeously and dances up a storm but invests Millie with irresistible appeal.
A quartet of SoCal favorites make welcome returns to the GCT stage.
Thwaits has great fun spoofing his romantic leading man persona as Manhattan sophisticate Trevor, and the audience shares in his delight. England follows her scene-stealing star turn as Zombina in The Visceral Company’s Zombies From The Beyond with an equally stellar Mrs. Meers, quite possibly the most outrageously (and deliberately) politically incorrect character in modern musical theater, uttering the trademark “Sad to be arr arone (=all alone) in the world” to repeated comic effect. (Thwaits and England appear courtesy of Actors Equity Association.)
Rodriguez brings sass and power pipes to Muzzy in “Only In New York” and “Long As I’m Here With You,” and great comedic chops when she impersonates a slightly overage orphan in a plan to rescue Mrs. Meers latest victim. As for Jimmy, the always wonderful Webb gives the musical’s male ingenue an ageless charm in addition to his accustomed golden vocals.
Bakker’s Miss Dorothy couldn’t be any lovelier (or sing in a lovelier soprano) and her scenes opposite the adorable Anton Mikhail Garsola as Ching Ho are as charming as they get, with Hisato Masuyama’ Bun Foo another laugh-getter as is Tiffany LaBarbera Palmer as Millie’s hilariously anal-retentive supervisor Miss Flannery.
Once again choreographer Alexander and a crackerjack triple-threat GCT ensemble dazzle in one high-energy song-and-dance sequence after another including the title song (lyrics by Sammy Cahn, music by Jimmy Van Heusen), “The Nutty Cracker Suite” (derived from Tchaikovsky), and the infectious “Forget About The Boy.”
Christopher Curry (Kenneth), Laurie Anne Fedor (Rita, Daphne). Emily A. Fisher (Ruth), Jeannette Grout (Ethel Peas), Christa Hamilton (Alice), Jacob Krech (Rodney), Kevin McDonald (Dexter), Rachel McLaughlan (Gloria), Paul Reid (Gershwin), and Aron Ross (The Letch) show off precision footwork rivaling the best our professional CLOs have to offer, and vocally they couldn’t be any better, performing to prerecorded tracks under Steven Applegate’s topnotch musical direction.
Millie’s imaginative scenic design features lickety-split scene changes facilitated by a razor-sharp ensemble-slash-stage crew. As always, costume designer Angela Wood merits top marks for one sensational period outfit after another, with added snaps to the particularly gorgeous hues of Millie’s 1920s frocks and to Mrs. Meers’ “Oriental” kimono. (Richard Campbell is Wood’s assistant.) Cast member Reid’s lighting design is as pizzazzy as it gets. On a less positive note, repeated glitches compromised Alex Mackyol’s sound design throughout the performance reviewed.
Carl Garcia is stage manager.
With so many Southern California theaters doing the same shows ad nauseam (and GCT has some of those old chestnuts coming up in the next year and a half), it’s a pity more theaters don’t stage the thoroughly crowd-pleasing Thoroughly Modern Millie. A 900-plus-peformance Best Musical Tony winner deserves to be seen more often than it has been these past dozen years, just one of many reasons not to miss this all-too-rare (and thoroughly entertaining) Glendale Centre Theatre revival.
Glendale Centre Theatre, 324 N. Orange St., Glendale.
August 28, 2014