Story: Millie Dillmount departs Salina, Kansas on a train bound for New York City. It’s 1922 and Millie, who considers herself a ‘modern girl,’ sets her sights on landing a job and a husband at one of Gotham’s corporations. No sooner does she disembark from the train than she is robbed, leaving her with no money, no suitcase and not even both of her shoes. She trips an amiable passerby named Jimmy, a young man who advises her to leave the big city that clearly is too daunting for her.
Millie refuses that advice but does accept Jimmy’s recommendation of rooming at the Hotel Priscilla for Single Women, which is run by the mysterious Mrs. Meers. It’s accommodating to aspiring young actresses and others, but Mrs. Meers has a penchant for ‘losing’ orphans who periodically check in. Millie eventually is joined by another new roomer, Miss Dorothy, who helps with the rent and quickly becomes the object of affection of Ching Ho, one of Mrs. Meers’ two unwitting Chinese assistants in a white slavery ring.
Millie takes a job at the Sincere Trust Insurance Company, hoping to catch the eye of the corporation’s eligible boss, Trevor Graydon III, but instead gradually finds herself falling in love with the impoverished Jimmy. Will “modern” Millie decide to marry for love instead of money?
Highlights: What better show to usher in executive producer Mike Isaacson’s regime than The Muny’s first presentation of this 2002 Broadway blockbuster which garnered six Tony Awards, among them Best Musical, for its producers, including Isaacson as part of Fox Theatricals? In his opening remarks to the debut of The Muny’s 2012 season, Isaacson pointed out that season ticket sales are up 20 percent from last year. This rousing musical, given first-class treatment by director Marc Bruni and an appealing, highly energetic cast, kick-starts the season with a flourish.
Other Info: Composer Jeanine Tesori and lyricist Dick Scanlan have composed a number of bright and cheerful numbers that hold their own with a half-dozen or so standards by the likes of James Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn (the title song), Victor Herbert and Rita Johnson Young (I’m Falling in Love with Someone) and even Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
Chris Bailey’s explosive choreography fills the expansive Muny stage with dozens of finely attuned dancers on high-energy numbers, several of them set before an impressive array of artfully designed giant postcards showing off the glamour and glitter of the Big Apple, courtesy of Michael Anania’s comic and inventive scenic design.
Seth Jackson’s lighting beautifully accentuates bits performed at a Manhattan nightclub by Muzzy, an entertainer turned wealthy widow and played to the hilt by accomplished veteran Leslie Uggams. The first black performer to be featured on a weekly, national, prime-time TV series (Sing Along with Mitch), Uggams still has energy and talent in abundance, as demonstrated on her first-act sizzler, Only in New York.
Tari Kelly brims with vitality and exuberance as the implacable Millie (played by Julie Andrews in the 1967 film), belting out tunes with flair and dancing up a storm in the process. There’s also splendid work by Andrew Samonsky as the dapper Jimmy, Megan McGinnis as the virtuous Miss Dorothy Brown and Stephen Buntrock as the Ted Baxter-type boss at Sincere Trust Insurance.
Beth Leavel delights in delivering the wickedly funny lines mouthed by the villainous Mrs. Meers, while Tory Ross has a high time as the imperious Miss Flannery, head stenographer at the insurance firm. Francis Jue and Darren Lee bring hearty humor to their roles as Meers’ Chinese henchmen, underscored by prompters above the stage that translate their Chinese into some amusing English.
Richard Henry Morris and Scanlan wrote the book, Martin Pakledinaz provides the sumptuous period costumes and Michael Horsley is responsible for the expert musical direction. Bruni keeps the show moving along at a brisk pace, greatly aided by so many wonderful dance routines.
Thoroughly Modern Millie is ideal fare for families that have formed the core of The Muny’s 90-year history of attendees, a tradition fondly referenced by Isaacson in his remarks. It’s also a terrific start to the summer season.
Musical: Thoroughly Modern Millie
Group: The Muny
Venue: The Muny in Forest Park
Dates: Through June 24
Tickets: Free to $70; contact 534-1111 or metrotix.com
Rating: A 5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Larry Pry/The Muny