Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The show is set in 1922 and follows small-town Kansas girl Millie Dillmount and her exploits in New York City. Upon arriving, Millie sets about to become a modern woman by donning flapper garb and a chic bob hairdo. As she goes about her plan to marry a man for his wealth and not for love, she discovers that it may not be as easy as she thought, especially since the man she wants, who just happens to be her boss, seems to pay her no attention. She also keeps running into a poor but charming young man named Jimmy, and she just might be falling for him. Adding to Millie's problems is the possibility that Mrs. Meers, the woman who owns the hotel where she rents a room, might be running a white slavery ring with a plan to kidnap and sell some of Millie's friends.
Dick Scanlan and Richard Morris' book, which follows Morris' screenplay fairly closely, is full of plot, with plenty of fun twists and turns, and the score, which includes songs from the film plus several toe-tapping new ones with music by Jeanine Tesori and lyrics by Scanlan, features several showstoppers.
Hale's talented cast, under the skilled direction of Cambrian James, features excellent performances from Caelan Creaser as Millie, Allan DeWitt as Jimmy, and Kathi Osborne as Mrs. Meers. Creaser has a firm grip on the role of Millie and her no-nonsense approach to Millie's "modern" sensibilities elicits laughs but also draws us to her plight, with a hint of vulnerability underneath her strong exterior. She has a beautiful, rich voice that delivers on her many songs and an infectious lightness to her expert dancing. Creaser also has a snappy delivery of her dialogue, which includes hilarious proclamations about her delusional idea such as "modern marriage is a business arrangement."
As Jimmy, DeWitt's strong, sweet voice evokes a lovely romantic nature that's essential to the musical's many love songs and, like Creaser, his dancing is excellent, as is his well-defined portrayal. DeWitt has appeared in a few small and ensemble roles at Hale and I believe this is his first time playing a lead, but I have to guess it will not be his last. Kathi Osborne is a crowd-pleasing hoot as the evil Mrs. Meers. She has the audience firmly in her hand as this villainess you love to hate, with superb comic timing.
Heidi-Liz Johnson as Millie's new friend Miss Dorothy and Stephen Serna as Millie's boss Trevor Graydon both played these roles last year in another production and they have grown in their abilities to elicit the charm, humor and humanity of the characters. Their romantic duet is full of fire and hilarity and expertly staged by James. Victoria Holden Jumpe is sweet, sassy and strong as the wealthy Muzzy Van Hossmere who befriends Millie and ends up in the middle of the action, while Cameron Swindler and Jeremy Cruz are great as Ching Ho and Bun Foo, the two Chinese brothers who assist Mrs. Meers. Swindler brings a perfect amount of sweetness and charm to Ching Ho and both he and Cruz's Chinese, which they speak in several scenes with subtitles projected over the audience, appears to be proficiently accurate.
James' excellent direction and choreography, along with his superb hair and makeup designs, provide period-perfect additions full of elegant and humorous touches. His surefooted direction elicits tons of enthusiasm and hijinks from the cast. Brian Daily's set design includes several nice art deco touches, and Dani Everts' costumes are simply sumptuous and work well to highlight the main actors. From having the entire ensemble in various shades of beige but in different styles in the opening sequence, to the beautiful embroidered outfits, floral prints, stunning gowns, and fancy tuxedos, there isn't a misstep in Everts' designs. Elizabeth Spencer's musical direction achieves beautiful harmonies from the cast.
With a talented cast under Cambrian James' always skilled direction, Hale's joyous and comically rich production of Thoroughly Modern Millie is a sure fire hit.
The Hale Centre Theatre production of Thoroughly Modern Millie runs through April 1, 2017, with performances at 50 W. Page Avenue in Gilbert. Tickets can be ordered at www.haletheatrearizona.com or by calling 480-497-1181.
Music by Jeanine Tesori, Lyrics by Dick Scanlan