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San Francisco by Richard Connema

The Three Faces of Millie

Thoroughly Modern MillieThe touring company of Jeanine Tesori, Dick Scanlan and Richard Morris's Thoroughly Modern Millie comes roaring into the San Jose Performing Arts Center as part of their American Musical Theatre of San Jose 2003-2004 season. This will be the only Bay Area appearance for the six Tony Award winner.

Millie started out as a Universal film with Julie Andrews playing Millie and Carol Channing as Muzzy. It featured a young actor named James Fox as Jimmy. (Soon after the film was released, James left films for Christian vocational work. However, he returned to film in the late '70s to become one of Britain's leading character actors). The film was a moderate box office success.

We first saw Thoroughly Modern Millie the stage musical at the 492 seat La Jolla Playhouse with Sutton Foster, Marc Kudisch, Francis Jue and Pat Carroll in 2000. I fell in love with the strictly frothy and joyful musical that had that roaring '20s touch. The sets were restrained and everything centered on the cast of great performers. Sutton Foster was to become Broadway's newest star.

Millie opened at the massive 1,578 seat Marquis Theatre in New York in 2002 and somehow it lost its spark and its innocence. The sets got glitzier and the producers put more dancers onto the stage. Fortunately, Sutton Foster, Marc Kudisch and Francis Jue were still in the show. It remained a great, breezy show but I missed that '20s feel since new numbers were put in that reflect a modern beat. Also, some wonderful songs were cut. It was now more New York and less a charming roaring twenties musical.

As spring follows winter, it was bound to happen that Millie would have a national touring company. The people of Middle America would eat up that "oh so passť" pleasurable musical. Undoubtedly, Millie will be one of AMT's biggest box office hits for the season. This version is slightly different from the La Jolla and New York productions. The big sets are gone and the production is shy about 10 actors/singers. One of the true showstoppers missing is Millie and Dorothy joined by Ching Ho and Bun Foo tap dancing in an elevator. I was told that the producers cut out the number due to economics; they did not want to have to transport an "elevator" from city to city for such a short dance.

Darcie Roberts puts a different spin on Millie. She looks like she came from the mid west, though there is no sense of wonderment from her for being in the big city. Darcie has a dynamic voice, especially in the number "Gimmee Gimmee," and she can shake a mean leg. Ms. Roberts has been around since the touring companies of the defunct Busker's Alley, and she played Lola in Copacabana.

Sean Allan Krill as Trevor Graydon could be a double for Marc Kudisch. He has the same square cut jaw and the wonderful up-market accent. Krill has a splendid voice and a good comic presence, especially in the second act. Joey Sorge as Jimmy has more of a sophisticated quality than the required boyish persona. He has a nice voice. Pamela Isaacs belts out "Only in New York" and her interpretation of "Long as I'm Here with You" in the second act is now shared with Ms. Roberts. Hollis Resnik as Mrs. Meers is miscast and her faux Chinese accent is just too ludicrous. She almost plays this role straight and her big number "They Don't Know" is not campy enough.

Diana Kaarina is outstanding as Miss Dorothy Brown and she has that '20s feel about her acting. She is more "Millie" than Roberts. Kaarina is a great dancer and has a grand range from operetta style, such as in the "Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life" duet with Sean Allan Krill, to a jazzy rendition of "How the Other Half Lives." The two Chinese hotel employees, Daniel May as Ching Ho and Darren Lee as Bun Foo, still wow the audience with their rendition of the reprise of "How the Other Half Lives" and the "Muqin" song.

Millie's dancing chorus is cut down but those hoofers dance their tuchis off, and the wonderful tap dancing from roll away office chairs still is a highlight of the first act. The choreography by Rob Ashford is good old fashioned tap dancing with a little of A Chorus Line thrown into the end of the show. Generally, Millie is an enjoyable show, but it certainly does not have the pizazz of the Broadway musical or the charm of the La Jolla production. However, AMT subscribers will be happy with this show if they have never seen it before.

Thoroughly Modern Millie runs through May 2 at the San Jose Performing Arts Center, 255 Almaden Blvd, San Jose. Tickets can be obtained at 888-455-7469 or 408-453-7108. They are also available at www.amtsj.org.

The next production will be The Producers, opening on July 6th and runs thru July 25.


Photo: Joan Marcus


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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