Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Even before Thoroughly Modern Millie won the 2002 Tony Award for Best Musical, it had to be obvious that the show had strong touring potential. With its accessible score, glitzy design, fun story, and timeless sentiment, the new musical is the exact type of show that performs well on the road, and the national tour currently playing at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati proves this point well.
Thoroughly Modern Millie started out as a 1967 film starring Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore, and Carol Channing. Like the movie, the story of the musical follows a naïve girl from Kansas as she arrives in the New York of 1922. Millie sets out to find a job working for a rich boss and then marry him, without the "outdated" requirement of love. Her plans are diverted, however, by interaction with her new friends Dorothy and Muzzy, romantic feelings for a loafer named Jimmy, and the sinister doings of the mysterious Mrs. Meers.
The book for the show is credited to the late Richard Morris, who wrote the screenplay for the film, and Dick Scanlan. There has been some tweaking of the story, primarily the ending and in fleshing out characters. The adaptation is generally a smart one, with all of the characters introduced sufficiently and possessing clear motivations. The plot isn't overly complex or deep, but there is plenty of humor, conflict, fun, and charm to go around.
The score for this musical is a patchwork of existing tunes, along with nine new songs written specifically for the stage adaptation. The old songs include the title song and "Jimmy" from the film, as well as "The Speed Test", which features original lyrics written to a classic Sullivan patter song from The Mikado, a revamped instrumental version of Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker Suite," and several others. Composer Jeanine Tesori won much acclaim for her music for Violet and has written some enchanting tunes for the new Off-Broadway musical Caroline, Or Change, but her new material for Thoroughly Modern Millie varies somewhat in quality. "Gimme Gimme" and "Forget About The Boy" are top-notch melodies bursting with energy and emotion, but a few of the numbers for other characters, especially Muzzy, are less accomplished. The lyrics by Dick Scanlan display adequate wit and wordplay, and are always at least serviceable. Still, despite the various sources and range of quality, there is a strangely pleasing cohesiveness to the overall score thanks to Tesori's arrangements.
Thoroughly Modern Millie offers one huge role as well as a number of meaty supporting opportunities. In the title role, Darcie Roberts is appropriately quirky, goofy, and awkward, but also possesses a powerful voice that she puts to excellent use. If she lacks a certain level of sweetness that would benefit her portrayal, she is nevertheless a fine leading lady for this production. The same can't be said for her leading man. Matt Cavenaugh is surely talented, but he is woefully miscast as Millie's love interest, Jimmy. Cavenaugh's phony accent in his dialogue and casual singing style are liabilities to the production.
As Mrs. Meers, Hollis Resnik displays a refreshingly pure singing voice and good comic timing as the show's villain. Diana Kaarina was impressive in her last stop in Cincinnati, as Eponine in Les Miserables, and she again does very well here as Miss Dorothy, bringing the necessary elegance and refinement (along with great singing and dancing) to the role. Pamela Isaacs sings strongly and does what she can with the somewhat underwritten character of Muzzy. Turning in the production's top performance is Sean Allan Krill as Millie's boss, Trevor Graydon. Mr. Krill is perfectly delightful as the uptight businessman, and his colorful performance reaps a constant stream of laughs. Andrew Pang (Ching Ho), Darren Lee (Bun Foo), and Janelle A. Robinson (Miss Flannery) do well in their roles also. The entire company displays non-stop energy and wonderful support.
Michael Mayer provides astute direction, with the camp factor held to a palatable level, and a quick pace and smooth transitions present throughout. Mayer also scores points for conceiving some clever storytelling devices and some very effective staging. Of even higher quality, and surely one of the greatest assets to this production, is the creative and unique choreography by Rob Ashford, which deservedly won him the Tony Award. Eric Stern capably leads a fine orchestra.
The tour of Thoroughly Modern Millie recreates most of David Gallo's appropriate and visually interesting art-deco style scenic design, though those familiar with the Broadway set will miss the elevator. The colorful and festive period costumes, which also differ slightly from Broadway, are impeccably supplied by Martin Pakledinaz, and Donald Holder provides professionally rendered lighting.
Like its score, the musical Thoroughly Modern Millie is a prime example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Though there are some flaws, the overall piece registers as a thoroughly satisfying show. The current national tour takes what worked on Broadway, mixes in a talented and mostly appropriate cast, and produces an old-fashioned tribute to the charms of the roaring twenties in a new modern package. The musical continues at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati through November 30, 2003. Tickets can be ordered by calling (800) 294-1816.-- Scott Cain