CLO’s ‘Millie’ proves to be thoroughly marvelous musical
If, like me, you believe there are few things finer than a fresh, new, old-fashioned musical comedy you will rejoice in the appearance of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” this week at the Benedum Center, Downtown.
The national touring production is being presented by Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera as the sixth and final show of its 2003 season. And this thoroughly marvelous musical finishes off the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera season on a winners’ high.
That’s not just because it’s got Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan’s solid book and creative and intelligent dialogue, a funny and imaginative score by composer Jeanne Tesori and lyricist Dick Scanlan, the exuberant tap enriched choreography of Point Park College graduate Rob Ashford, and won six Tony awards – including those for best musical and best choreography.
As one of the show’s producers, Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera can claim the bragging rights for having helped create a musical that people will be humming the tunes from for years to come.
There’s a dandy love song to Manhattan (“Only in New York,” sung with vampy gusto by Pamela Isaacs as Muzzy Van Hossmere), upbeat Charleston numbers (“Not for the Life of Me” and “Forget About the Boy”), and the inventive, comedic “Speed Test” song that combines creative tap and can-can choreography with an homage to Gilbert and Sullivan.
You might already know the story and James Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn’s original title song from the 1967 movie original. Set in 1922, it’s a warm and winning tale of a thoroughly modern miss who leaves Kansas to seek her fortune in Manhattan. Unexpected love thwarts raw ambition but not until Millie and her new friends have adventures in a speakeasy, a glamorous penthouse and a chic supper club, land in jail and foil a white slave trader.
Understandably but not excessively downsized from the Broadway original, the balky hotel elevator that generated comedic choreography has been eliminated and the chorus downsized by a third.
But David Gallo’s scenic designs, although seemingly pulled in and pushed downstage, offer the urban feel of 1920s skyscraper optimism. Martin Pakledinaz’s bright, colorful and dazzling costumes impress, especially the sparkly evening clothes.
The cast of principals is first rate beginning with Darcie Roberts’ accomplished performance as Millie. She wins us over early on with her spunky style and leggy dance moves. But “Gimme, Gimme” shows us what she’s really capable of musically.
Attractive Matt Cavanaugh, possibly the best thing about the short-lived Broadway musical “Urban Cowboy,” displays his comedic side as Millie’s loopy but endearing and unintended love interest, Jimmy.
Diana Kaarina is adorable as the orphaned waif Miss Dorothy. Sean Allan Krill’s square-jawed Dudley Do-Right performance as Millie’s boss Trevor Graydon draws laughs and affection. Hollis Resnik’s scheming Mrs. Meers and her henchmen Bun Foo and Ching Ho, played by Darren Lee and Andrew Pang wring every laugh out of a Chinese rendition of “Mammy.”
If you haven’t already been bitten by the bug, this show should make your heart do a whiz-bang, flip flop.
‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’