Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Based on the 1967 film that starred Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore and Carol Channing, Thoroughly Modern Millie is set in 1922 and tells the story of Millie Dillmount, the small-town girl from Kansas who has just arrived in New York City. She trades in her simple dress and long hair for a chic above-the-knee flapper ensemble and a bob hairdo and sets off on her "thoroughly modern" plan: to marry a man, hopefully her boss, for his wealth and not his love. However, Millie finds several obstacles on her path to nabbing a wealthy man. Her boss doesn't seem to be interested in proposing; she keeps bumping into, and might be falling for, a charming but penniless guy named Jimmy; and the owner of the hotel where she rents a room might just be running a white slavery ring.
The score features songs from the film as well as charming new ones with music by Jeanine Tesori and lyrics by Dick Scanlan. The book by Scanlan and Richard Morris follows Morris' screenplay fairly closely with a few fun new twists. While there is a lot of plot, the story is fun and the new, upbeat musical numbers add plenty of pizzazz.
Director/choreographer Cambrian James seems to work non-stop across the Valley, and almost always delivers a stellar end product. Here he has assembled a top-notch cast led by Brandy Reed as Millie. Reed is simply a knock-out with a firm stage presence that includes a smart and snappy delivery of her lines and a powerful voice that sends her songs soaring. She brings a perfect "no nonsense" delivery to her portrayal but also shows us, very briefly, the vulnerability underneath. Jesse Thomas Foster is adorable and confident with an agile dancer's sleek moves as Jimmy, the male romantic lead, while Heidi-Liz Johnson is full of charm and spunk as the perky, wide-eyed Miss Dorothy, the woman Millie befriends at the hotel. Stephen Serna gives another solid comical performance as Millie's boss Trevor, and Savannah Alfred is smart and sassy with a warm, strong voice as the wealthy and famous singer Muzzy Van Hossmere who factors into the plot in a fun way. As the evil Mrs. Meers who is running that white slavery ring, Sydney Davis chews every bit of scenery imaginable, with hilarious results. Drew Brantley and Jeremy Cruz are the two Chinese brothers who help Meers and they both add some charm to the silliness of their parts.
James' choreography is energetic and enthusiastic while his direction is bright and bubbly. The combination of the two results in a comically delicious journey to the prohibition era of flappers and speakeasies. The only main downside, as is often the case with DST's in-the-round main stage, is that with no major set elements or backdrops you never clearly get a sense of the style and glamour of the time period or of the massive and expansive settings of some of the scenesMuzzy's house in particular. However, the few set pieces that are used do a nice job in portraying, in a simple way, the settings of the piece, and Aurelie Flores' costumes provide plenty of pops of color and '20s period-inspired creativity. During the few scenes with Chin Ho and Bun Foo, the Chinese brothers who don't speak English, the translation of what they are saying is projected above but only on one small screen on a far wall which isn't viewable by anyone on that side of the stage who are sitting in front of the screen. Fortunately, not being able to see the translation doesn't detract too much from the plot. Elizabeth Spencer's musical direction achieves some stirring harmonies from the cast including a powerful quartet ending to "I Turned the Corner" that features lush tones from Reed, Foster, Sterna and Johnson.
With an enthusiast cast led by a winning turn from Brandy Reed and some splendid dancing, Desert Stages Theatre's Thoroughly Modern Millie is another hit for Cambrian James and company.
The Desert Stages production of Thoroughly Modern Millie runs through February 7th, 2016, with performances at 4720 N. Scottsdale Road in Scottsdale. Tickets are available at www.DesertStages.org or by phone at (480) 483-1664
Music by Jeanine Tesori, Lyrics by Dick Scanlan
Director/Choreographer: Cambrian James