Thoroughly Modern Millie
Also see Richard's review of Snapshots
Stages St. Louis has opened the 2008 summer season with a splashy and highly energetic production of Thoroughly Modern Millie, the stage version of the Oscar-winning 1960s film. The show is a classic example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. There's scarcely a hummable tune in the score (and the one that is hummable is an import from Naughty Marietta, circa 1911). The book is almost a jumble of random events, and a rather silly jumble at that. And yet, the show as a whole, with a considerable boost from Michael Hamilton's precise direction and blistering pace, is a delight, full of color and wit and energy.
The perfectly cast leads are Mamie Parris, straight from the Broadway cast of The Drowsy Chaperone, and Ben Nordstrom, a Stages veteran who won the 2005 Kevin Kline award for his performance in Footloose. Miss Parris achieves the precise combination of open-eyed innocence and inner fire needed to bring the improbable Millie to convincing (and adorable) life, and sings and dances with joy. The cherubic Mr. Nordstrom is a perfect foil, leading Millie through her discovery of New York, and life, with a winning smile and a delicious secret.
Graham Rowat and Pamela Brumley, as Millie's boss Trevor Graydon and her chum Miss Dorothy Brown, are great assets to the show. Mr. Rowat's fine baritone and Miss Brumley's supple soprano blend beautifully in "Falling in Love With Someone," and both are adept comedians.
Its hard to believe that Kari Ely has been a part of Stages for 18 years; it is a tribute to her dazzling versatility as a performer that she does a splendid (and funny) job as a Chinese laundress in this show, after charming everybody's socks off as Desiree in A Little Night Music. Zoe Vonder Haar, whose Stages pedigree is even richer, brings down the house as the efficient Miss Flannery, the office manager who can let her hair down and tap dance with the best of them.
Allan Mangaser and Devin Ilaw deserve special honors for not only wringing every last drop of energy and comedic effect from the characters of Bun Foo and Ching Ho, but learning what I am told is impeccable Chinese just for the show. Broadway veteran Thursday Farrar uses her big voice and expansive stage presence to full advantage as the larger-than-life Muzzy Van Hossmere.
This show lives on choreography, and Dana Lewis supplies it brilliantly. Lou Bird's costumes are bright and bold, and perfectly tailored; Mark Halpin's sets are imaginative and colorful.
If Thoroughly Modern Millie were a cowboy, it would be fair to describe it as all hat and no cattle. There's almost no substance to it at all. But that is, after all, in the grand tradition of musicals of the 1920s and 30s and this is both a spoof of those shows and a warm homage to them. What this show is, triumphantly, is bright, funny, fast-paced and thoroughly enjoyable.
The Stages St. Louis production of Thoroughly Modern Millie will run through June 29 at the Robert Reim Theater in Kirkwood. For tickets, call 314-821-2407 or visit www.stagesstlouis.org.