Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Lapine, who also directed, tells the (fictionalized) true story of a pop music phenomenon named Elva Miller, a 59-year-old California housewife who became an unlikely celebrity through her shrill, tone-deaf, but impassioned recordings of such songs as "Downtown," "Moon River," and "These Boots Are Made for Walkin.'" While audiences obviously laughed at Mrs. Miller (as everyone but her husband called her), she heard herself as the classically trained artist she believed she was. Monk uses her fine vocal technique to hit some previously unheard notes, but Lapine also allows the audience a few moments to hear Mrs. Miller as she thinks she sounds.
To place Mrs. Miller's adventures in context, Lapine has surrounded her with several supporting characters who represent different 1960s archetypes. There's Mrs. Miller's niece Joelle (Rebekah Brockman), who begins as a prim college freshman and discovers sex, pot, and social upheaval; Simon Bock (Corey Mach), a church choir director who becomes Mrs. Miller's producer; a jingle-singing trio consisting of a blonde beauty queen (Kaitlyn Davidson), an African-American woman (Kimberly Marable), and a gay aspiring choreographer (Jacob ben Widmar); and Will LeBow in several roles (and hairpieces).
Boyd Gaines, winner of four Tony Awards, gives an incisive performance in the small role of Mrs. Miller's husband, recovering from a stroke and not at all happy to hear about his wife's success. He doesn't like the changes he sees in society, and that goes for his wife as well.
Heidi Ettinger's scenic design seems simple at first but soon reveals a turntable and acting spaces concealed behind panels showing iconic images from the era (the Beatles in their Sgt. Pepper costumes, Bobby Kennedy, protesting hippies, Neil Armstrong standing on the moon). Jennifer Caprio's costumes are both evocative of the period and, in some cases, outrageous, specifically the dress Mrs. Miller wears on a USO tour of Vietnam with Bob Hope.