Thoroughly Modern Millie
July 11 - 19
By Christopher Gray
With the passage of the 19th Amendment, ‘20s Flappers defined notions of modern womanhood and fashion. ArcLight Production’s Thoroughly Modern Millie tackles this concept with its current musical. As title character Mille says in Act Two “A modern takes charge of her destiny and doesn't wait for her ship to come in.” This toe-tapping musical traces Millie’s journey as she charts her course through womanhood.
Stage and screen often retell identical stories in their respective forms. Thoroughly Modern Millie is one such, current example. Millie was written for the screen in 1967 and made famous by Julia Andrews’ performance. Adapted for the stage in 2000, this familiar story was an immediate success and won six Tony awards including Best Musical. Millie tells the story of Millie Dillmount who leaves small town America for New York following her vision for what a modern American woman should be.
The ambience of this intimate theatre is immediately present; you are greeted with the sounds of the orchestra warming up, the glow of the curtain warmers and the show's title shining on the grand drape, and the bustle of the audience eagerly awaiting the show.
In the opening, we are introduced to Millie who comes from "Gopherville, USA" and falls right into the hustle and bustle of the big city. Soon after her arrival she is mugged of her belongings and is now destitute in this unfamiliar place full of strangers. Millie seeks out help from those strangers who continue to turn a blind eye until Millie trips a gentleman, who we later find out is Jimmy, and is directed to a boarding house for the unemployed. The boarding house is no safe haven as its mistress takes advantage of her boarders and uses the guise of free board to sell her boarders into slavery in China.
The story progresses with Millie looking for employment with her primary criteria being that her future employers are male, wealthy, and single. This quest for love is Millie’s thoroughly modern vision. She takes work at an insurance company under the leadership of Mr. Graydon (Alex Smith) where she plots for her life of wealth and fame. However, Millie's best laid plans are side-tracked when she falls for Jimmy, the man she tripped upon her arrival to the city, and her boss falls for her best friend. Full of complications and twists, Millie finds love and unravels the evil plot to kidnap the women at the boarding house. In spite of Millie's "modern" plans this story, like so many others, comes together through deep connections the characters make to one another and love. As Muzzy Van Hossmere, the sage nightclub performer who mentors Millie says, "Love has everything to do with it!"
There are a number of memorable songs throughout the show. "How the Other Half Lives" featuring Millie (Rebecca Mills) and Mrs. Brown (Sydney Becker) is beautifully sung by these talented ladies. Smith's booming voice is also a crowd pleaser in "The Speed Test." The show stopper may be "I Turned the Corner" when Mills, Becker, Smith, and Cody Mull join for some harmonic bliss.
The show features a variety of dance styles from choreographer Bethany Freese. One staged entrance into an insurance office includes some clever staging of workers rhythmically walking into the space with desks and typewriters building an intrigue and anticipation of a large number. Momentarily I was disappointed the dance never came to fruition as the scene transitioned into dialogue and the dancers and desks left the stage. However, after a brief scene, the desks and typewriters return along with the full cast for a large, and fun, tap number. The number lives up to the anticipation and is a memorable moment from the show.
The ensemble is high energy and keeps the show moving even with a nearly two and a half hour run time. Director Jeff Driscoll has made creative use out of the space and helps the audience focus on key elements of this complex story. Mills proves to be worthy of her title role with strong vocal work and convincing character portrayal throughout the show. Linda Brown's portrayal of the boarding house mistress is spot-on as the archetypical villain. The principles were strong and played off of each other well.
The opening of the curtain reveals Michelle Mullin’s set design which is impressive in transforming this quaint theatre into the bright lights of the city skyline. Throughout the show the set transforms seamlessly to a number of locations through use of simple and suggestive set pieces. The lighting also helps guide the audience’s eye and masks scene changes and actor’s entrances and exits. There were a few technical glitches in lighting and projections that were easy to forgive in this technically-ambitious show.
Thoroughly Modern Millie runs this weekend only with 7:30 curtain times on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday and a 2:30 matinee on Sunday. Tickets can be reserved by calling Arclight at (309) 455-4095 or by visiting www.arclightpro.com
Posted July 24, 2014