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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Thoroughly Modern Millie
at the 5th Avenue Theatre

Also see David's review of The O'Conner Girls

There are those, I suppose, who think I'm mad, heaven knows, for being a fan of the 1966 film version of Thoroughly Modern Millie. It may have its faults, but where else do you get Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore, Carol Channing and, in her one and only big movie role, the indelible Beatrice Lillie? That said, I was very happy when I first saw Dick Scanlan and Jeannie Tesori's reimagined stage version a few years ago at La Jolla Playhouse, enjoyed it again on Broadway, and have now had the pleasure of seeing the first class national company at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre. Thoroughly Modern Millie may be utterly insubstantial fluff, disdained by many critics, but in this writer's eyes it is an oasis of welcome escapism, easy on the eyes and the ears, and by golly, what's wrong with that?

The plot - midwest girl comes to Jazz Age New York City to bag a rich beau in lieu of true love, foils a white-slavery ring run by her landlady, and ends up with both true love and money - is as wacky and convoluted as they come. But Scanlan wisely adapted the outline of Richard Morris' screenplay, did what he could to make Mrs. Meers' villainous Asian henchmen sympathetic victims of blackmail, and wrapped up the end of the show in about twenty minutes less time than it took in the movie. It was only logical that Tesori and Scanlan would want to scuttle most of the film's score to make room for their own numbers, and several of them, especially the pre-title song opening "Not For the Life of Me", "Forget About the Boy", and "Gimme,Gimme" are savory indeed (though I will never forgive them for eliminating the wacky, dance craze spoofing "Tapioca" sequence which could easily have worked on the stage). A Scanlan lyric to an old Gilbert and Sullivan song becomes an ingenious "Typing Test" number, and Mrs. Meers is even allowed a character number to define her villainy (in this version, she is a failed actress, revenging her failures on young hopeful thespians whom she sells into white slavery). A few other numbers, particularly those for the revamped Channing character of wealthy eccentric Muzzy (now an African American nightclub star), rely more on the performer selling them than on their own merits. Luckily inventive director Michael Mayer has found a touring cast that equals and sometimes tops the Broadway originals.

Darcie Roberts as Millie competes successfully with the impression made by her Tony-winning Broadway predecessor Sutton Foster. Roberts, who did the first workshop of Millie several years back, isn't as immediately ingratiating in the role, but when the show lets her show her slapstick side, lookout! And vocally she has everything you could ask for, bringing down the house with her rousing eleven o'clock number "Gimme, Gimme." Roberts and her on again, off again beau Jimmy Smith, Joey Sorge, have great chemistry, and their lyric duet "I Turned A Corner" is a pleasant breath of breezy charm in the otherwise brassy show. Sean Allen Krill as Millie's boss and hopeful husband Trevor Graydon is simply hilarious, balancing arrogance and charm in equal doses, and he is ideally matched by Diana Karrina's kewpie-doll with a spine of steel take on heiress-in-disguise Miss Dorothy. Hollis Resnik as Mrs. Meers is drolly hilarious, and vocally sublime, especially when she and her unwilling co-conspirators Bun Foo and Chin Ho (the wonderful Darren Lee and Andrew Pang) do a take on the Al Jolson classic "Mammy," complete with supertitles. Janelle A. Robinson is a hoot as menacing senior office secretary Miss Flannery, getting some of the show's biggest laughs. And finally, there is the captivating Pamela Issacs, who wowed Broadway a few years back in The Life, making sense of her Muzzy character through sharp comic line delivery and elevating her indifferently written songs with powerhouse vocals.

Rob Ashford's choreography captures the roar of the '20s with vivacity and is strutted to superb effect by a really able ensemble. The Martin Pakledinaz costumes are glitteringly gorgeous send-ups of the era, and David Gallo's sets are also delicious eye candy, successfully squeezed onto the 5th Avenue's smallish stage. Douglas Besterman's crackling orchestrations are rendered beautifully by musical director Eric Stern and his orchestra.

In short, if you are willing to be swept away by a cascade of succulent silliness, then beat it to the 5th Avenue while Thoroughly Modern Millie is still in town!

Thoroughly Modern Millie runs through April 4 at the 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 5th Avenue in downtown Seattle. For more information go to the 5th Avenue's website at www.5thavenuetheatre.org.



- David-Edward Hughes



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