Reviewed by Therese Bohn
The Cider Mill Playhouse is wrapping up its 39th season with the crowd-pleasing Thoroughly Modern Millie, and what a caper it is!
Millie (Maureen Edwards) arrives in Manhattan looking as innocent as Mary Pickford, but under her yellow pinafore and ringlets, she’s determined to be a thoroughly modern woman of 1922. She raises her skirt and bobs her hair, but will she succeed in marrying her rich boss?
That’s the heart of the Dick Scanlan/Richard Henry Morris/Jeanine Tesori musical,a madcap romp of dizzy romance and devious laundry service.
Yet something’s afoot when Millie’s fellow flappers start to disappear from the Hotel Priscilla for Girls, specifically the orphaned ones. Rumors of white slavery abound, and the hotel matron, Mrs. Meers (Shannon DeAngelo), seems strangely unconcerned.
The story and music in this version are vastly superior to the 1967 movie on which it was based. It knows when it’s making fun of itself, and the characters are much more fleshed out in their songs. The movie version squeezed every awful stereotype out of its Asian characters, but here, the “henchmen” Ching Ho (Tuan Malinowski) and Bun Foo (Josh Mertans) are quite loveable and (naturally) speak Chinese, with comical captions on side screens. Evil Mrs. Meers initially appears to be painfully stereotypical in her Chinese accent until her ruse is revealed; she’s as hilariously hard-boiled as any gangster’s moll.
The costuming by Ashlynne Abraham is as splashy as a dip in Jay Gatsby’s fountain. The choreography by Michelle Krisko and Anne Trebilcock is as tight and breathless as a vaudeville show as it prances from tap and ballroom to a bit of Fosse, and even teeters on a window ledge.
Although the music in Millie finds its way through multiple genres (The Nutcracker to melodrama), it mostly adheres to the bouncy joy of the jazz era. Edwards covers all ranges of Millie’s enthusiasm, from her determination to be free of life on the farm in “Not for the Life of Me” to her paean to Mr. Smith as she darts from doubt to devotion in “Jimmy,” realizing that she could say “Yes” to his pursuit of her.
Especially delightful is the “The Speed Test,” a show-stopping piece that borrows from a Gilbert and Sullivan patter song. Strong lungs are needed to support its pace and vocal gymnastics.
The score allows Edwards and Lindgren, as well as Cider Mill veterans DeAngelo and Crump, to each have their share of show-stoppers with good long notes. The soft purity of Lindgren’s voice is especially alluring as he sings “I Turned the Corner” to smitten Millie. It becomes quite a romantic duet between the two, then a crowning quartet as they are joined by Miss Dorothy and Mr. Graydon as they reprise “I’m Falling in Love with Someone.” It’s the perfect mix of sappy and sincere, just the thing you’d hope for in a Jazz Age musical.
The ensemble cast members shift seamlessly from scene to scene, and all are splendid, especially all of Millie’s fellow flappers as they gallivant around town and in the office. Maine-Endwell families will be treated to see kindergarten teacher Hilary Rozek-Squier as the hilarious Whoville-haired Miss Flannery. (She tap dances ,too, kids!) A special shout-out to ensemble member Lisa Podulka who filled in on Friday night, and nailed the sexy “Pearl Lady” dance in the Café Society scene.
Congratulations to director Josh Sedelmeyer for squeezing a big musical into a small space and keeping the action flowing like bathtub gin. To paraphrase her love song to Jimmy, let Millie “coax you and implore you; I promise it won’t bore you.” Say “yes” to Millie!
IF YOU GO: Performances continue at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday through June 28 at the Cider Mill Playhouse, 2 S. Nanticoke Ave., Endicott. Call 748-7363, or visit www.cidermillplayhouse.org.