Regional Reviews: San Francisco
A Bright and Breezy Production of Thoroughly Modern Millie
The Diablo Light Opera Company is presenting Richard Morris, Dick Scanlan and Jeanine Tesori's frothy musical Thoroughly Modern Millie at the Dean Lesher's Hoffman Theatre in Walnut Creek through November 4th.
I first saw this delightful musical at the La Jolla Playhouse during the fall of 2000 with Sutton Foster, Marc Kudisch, Pat Carroll and Francis Jue. Later I saw the more dazzling version on the Marquis Stage in New York during the summer of 2002 with most of the cast intact. Some of the fun '20s music had been replaced with original songs by Tesori and Scanlan. The current show is based on the New York musical with a surprise and original ending.
Millie is the story of a sweet young girl (Brandy Collazo) from Kansas coming to roaring '20s gotham to make it big by finding an eligible rich bachelor to marry. Her plan is to get a job as a stenographer and marry the boss. She chooses the right boss, Trevor Graydon (Eric Neiman), who is a straightforward, rich bachelor. Of course, along the way Millie meets fast-talking gallant Jimmy (Matthew Brandon Hutchens), who steals her heart.
There's also a crazy sub-plot which involves some strange goings on at the hotel for women where Millie resides. The owner, Mrs. Meers (Cynthia Myers), is a disillusioned actress with a ludicrous faux-Chinese accent who is dealing a "white slave trade." The young girls in the hotel who are "all alone in the world" are mysteriously disappearing. Mrs. Meers has two Chinese "laundrymen," Bun Foo (Austin Ku) and Ching Ho (Michael Cabanlit), as her accomplices.
Millie retains only two of the musical numbers of the original film made by Fox. The inventive songs, such as "Forget About the Boy" and "How the Other Half Lives," have a more modern style, while the dances and music are strictly from the roaring '20s.
In this two hour and thirty-five minute show, the actors must establish their characters and try to advance the plot quickly. They succeed in accomplishing this difficult task with outstanding singing and dancing.
Millie's two strongest principals, Brandy Collazo as Millie and Matthew Brandon Hutchens as Jimmy, are terrific. Ms. Collazo is a marvelous dancer with a great brassy voice. The diminutive singer/dancer gives the character a cheerful and earnest personality. Her rendition of "Jimmy" in the second act is very heartwarming. Mr. Hutchens is splendid in his dancing and singing of the role of the puckish Jimmy. He injects a lot of warmth into the character. His dancing moves are dazzling and his vocals in "What Do I Need with Love?" and "I Turned the Corner" have a certain smoothness that is pleasurable.
Cynthia Myers gives a droll performance as Mrs. Meers, a cross between Eve Arden and Fu Manchu. Her hammy faux Chinese accent is hilarious. Her brassy solo, "They Don't Know," with luscious lyrics about playing some of the greatest women's roles on the stage, could be more powerful since some of the clever lyrics are lost in the sound system. Ms. Myers, Austin Ku as Bun Foo and Michael Cabanlit as Ching Ho are side splitting in singing a tribute to their Hong Kong "Mammy" in Chinese with English subtitles overhead. The two Asians also are hilarious singing the reprise of "Not For the Life of Me" in authentic Chinese.
Eric Neiman and Angelique Lucia give bravura performances as square-jawed Trevor Graydon and the immature Miss Dorothy Brown, Millie's best friend who wants to be on the stage. Mr. Neiman has a striking voice when singing the tricky Gilbert and Sullivan melody in "The Speed Test." Ms. Lucia has a charming soprano voice, especially in the duet with Neiman, "Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life/I'm Falling in Love with Someone." Melynda Kiring gives a dynamic performance as Muzzy Van Hossmere, the very rich and down to earth glamorous chanteuse. She excels in the number "Only in New York."
The large dancing chorus of 22 boys and girls are marvelous. The opening scene choreographed by Sheri Stockdale is full of energy and tapping feet. Every one of the dancers gives a polished performance. The dancing at The Tie-One-On-Club to the "The Nuttycracker Suite" is full of youthful vitality. The brief "tap dance elevator" number is now lost, due to the accident of October 12th when 700 pounds of rail equipment fell. The company had to take out the elevator and that number makes no sense in the current state. (I also took umbrage at the loss of one of the best numbers in the La Jolla version, when the two Asians and Millie did a great soft shoe to the song "Stumblin.")
Cheryl Yee Glass leads a fine solid orchestra of 12 pieces that adds to the enjoyment of the '20s music. Ryan Weible's direction and Chad Runyon's choral work are right on the mark. Set design by James Fouchard for Troika Entertainment has a '20s New York design, straight out of a '30s Warner Brother's movie. Lighting by Kurt Landisman creates a brightly colored stage, and costumes by Pam Gill for The Theatre Company are authentic '20s outfits.
Thoroughly Modern Millie plays through November 4 at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, Civic Drive, Walnut Creek. For tickets call 925-944-1565 or go to www.dloc.org. Their next production will be a "Teen Theatre" production of Little Shop of Horrors on January 6th, 2007 and the next full production will be The Music Man opening April 6, 2007.