1920s revisited in Thoroughly Modern Millie

The Fireside Theatre continues to draw enthusiastic audiences. Tour buses fill the parking lot, and seniors love the beautifully-costumed musicals that have become the standard for Fireside. Currently playing, Thoroughly Modern Millie fills the requirement. From the opening with the ensemble in their gorgeous 1920’s garb who join Millie (Katie Sina) in the show’s title tune, to the finale, the entire production is filled with comedy and dance.

Choreographed by Ann Nieman, the dance numbers are a highlight. The musical score backs the ensemble, and everyone performs well. Ed Flesch directs this production originally staged on Broadway nearly 60 years ago. An 18-year-old Julie Andrews played Millie, and later she was joined by Mary Tyler Moore and Carol Channing in the 1967 film version. More recently, Millie returned to New York for the 2002 season, winning six Tony Awards for the Best Musical. Now touring the country, Millie played in Chicago under the direction of Julie Andrews before beginning the national tour.

The somewhat dated plot still appeals. Young women coming to the big city to fulfill their dreams are caught up in the machinations of an evil landlady, Mrs. Meers (Lee Ann Payne). Her Asian accent becomes a bit wearing, but that is the script writer’s device. Mikhail Pontenila as Ching Ho and Andrew Christi as Bun Ho converse in Chinese. Overhead projectors provide the English translations. White slavery, a crime of the ’20s focused on the immigrants flooding the country at that time, is more racist than real.

Love centers the show. Early on, Millie bumps into Jimmie Smith (Jason Johnson). One of the strongest characters and a fine vocalist, he is my favorite. The young ladies living at the Priscilla Hotel disappear one by one. Filling the most recent vacancy is Miss Dorothy Brown (Elizabeth Kensek), a perfect match for Good Witch Glenda in Wicked, blonde curls and all. Her duet with Trevor Graydon (Steve Watts), “Ah Sweet Mystery of Life,” is an exact replication of Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald’s original.

Millie becomes more energetic in Act II, and the entire cast performs with greater enthusiasm. Millie and Jimmie find each other, and Janelle Neal as Muzzy Van Hossmere adds much-needed vitality to the stage. A powerful singer, her “Only in New York” ending Act I is a show-stopper.

The creativity of set design for theater-in-the-round always surprises, and Richard Rasmussen accomplishes this well. Adding top the ambience are the figures of the time in silhouette surrounding the audience. Needless to say, our day at the Fireside met all expectations. A lovely luncheon ending with cheesecake could not have been better. Playing through Oct. 14, specials are available for Labor Day weekend. Four dinners for the price of three on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 31-Sept. 2. For more details, call 1-800-477-9505 or order online at www.firesidetheatre.com.

from the Sept. 12 – 18, 2007, issue

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