Thoroughly Modern Millie
Unless, that is, you put me a few seats away from somebody even bitchier than I, and that person does nothing but complain about the (alleged) lack of fealty to style and period, and even impugns the deep inner motives of our heroine, till I wanted to run out to the lobby, and far, far away. But I owe this older, "wiser" man a debt of gratitude, because I ended up falling in love with this show, somewhat out of spite: all because someone even nastier than I am let loose on a cute little, meaningless ball of yarn like this.
Deviously devoid of any serious purpose or intent, Millie flies along with sharp dancing and split-second comic timing, and lots of vocal fireworks from Holly Ann Butler (Millie) and everyone around her, especially Melody Betts as the red hot momma, Muzzy Van Hossmere. Between the two of them, and with endless reserves of talent on all sides, this 2.5 hour show flies by as quickly as a David Ives blackout. Ms. Butler provides the sizzling nervous system of the play, and Ms. Betts is the heart, thumping powerfully to a syncopated beat.
Millie comes to the big city (New York) to make her mark as a "modern," amidst a leggy legion of girls doing exactly the same thing in 1922. And setting a story like this in the bygone days of the flapper and of Prohibition should remove any dark or sleazy motive from Millie's character. Yet somehow, that unhappy gentleman to my left was quick to point out the parallels to prostitution in her aspirations (i.e., marrying for money). To be fair, Millie was getting her marching orders from that great center of moral certitude, Vogue, as any fashionable girl might.
The director is William Osetek, and one can only imagine his glee that everything comes together so nicely here. Tammy Mader is in charge of the dancing, which never fails to amuse and amaze, with lots of great tap that really sells the show. The story itself is barely worth mentioning, except as a vehicle to discuss the funny Paula Scrofano (as the hotelier Mrs. Meers, sounding a bit like a young Eileen Brennan) and her two unwilling henchmen (the wonderful Richard Manera and Paul Martinez), who attempt to shanghai girls like Millie (to Hong Kong, actually). Mark Fisher is the nice young man trying to make an impression on her (and Fisher succeeds, as a singer and dancer and comic actor) and Randall Dodge is Millie's boss, terrifically funny and quite a fine singer in his own right: a young Eddie Mayehoff, you might say. Sharon Sacks does great work as the head of the steno pool, where our heroine finally lands a job, and where the whole chorus is exactly right in their wit and verve and polish, especially in the sadder-but-wiser tap-fest, "Forget About the Boy."
The songs are mostly fine, but so much of the score is borrowed from Tchaikovsky, Rida Young and Victor Herbert, and Gilbert & Sullivan, and Walter Donaldson, that you can't be blamed for wondering if Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan finished their songs between shifts at Mel Bay. Indeed, whole swathes of the book (by Richard Morris) seem to be inspired by "The Carol Burnett Show." Fortunately, youth and enthusiasm and great comic acting easily close the distance between crap and crepe, with lots of glittering lights, and glittering talent on stage. Just make sure you're sitting near some old curmudgeon, who can absorb any and all cynicism for you.
Through December 20th, 2009 at the Drury Lane Oakbrook, about 20 miles west of the Chicago Loop. For information call (630) 530-0111, or (312) 559-1212. You can visit the theater's website at www.drurylaneoakbrook.com.
* Denotes member, Actors Equity Association
* Denotes Stage Directors and Choreographers Society
Orchestrations by Carey Deadman and John Kornegay