WCT’s ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ is thoroughly entertaining
By MARILYN JOZWIK
Published April 2, 2019
If you’re looking for some message or deep hidden meaning in the musical “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” your search is futile.
The show, presented at Waukesha Civic Theatre, is as light and fluffy as a down pillow. And luckily for playgoers, WCT, under the direction of Jim Padovano with music director Yeng Parman-Thao, has captured the fun and flamboyance of the flapper era as it follows heroine Millie Dillmount (Megan Rose Miller) on her escapades in New York City in the 1920s.
Besides an exceptionally fine cast, the show features great costuming – with all the glitz and glitter plus gobs of fringe – as well as a classy art-deco set and quiet, efficiently moving set pieces; Jessica Fastabend’s snappy choreography; and a fine 11-piece orchestra under the direction of Joshua Parman-Thao.
It all starts with Miller as irrepressible Millie, the small-town Kansan looking for a rich husband in NYC. Miller is the ideal Millie. Her energy, sincerity and wide-eyed wonder make her plucky character a delight to watch in every scene. Add to that strong vocals and dance, good chemistry with all the other characters, plus a great flapper look, and you have a complete and completely engaging performance.
“Millie” sanitizes the 1920 era of debauchery – especially women’s newfound voice – of drinking, partying, casual sex, unconventional dress and gangsters. It was part of the economic boom that followed World War I and saw technology bring jazz and Hollywood all around the world. It is a sort of “Great Gatsby” without the angst, which makes it a perfect choice for family audiences.
Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan’s book has plenty of snappy rejoinders, as when Millie asks Jimmy, one of her first acquaintances in the Big Apple, “Who are you, the unwelcome wagon?” Jeanine Tesori’s music captures the budding Jazz Age and inserts some surprising tunes like “The Nutty Cracker Suite,” a nod to Tchaikovsky’s Christmas classic featuring white gloved flappers in the gloaming. Scanlan handled the lyrics.
On a mission
Millie’s story includes her introduction to Mrs. Meers, her landlady at The Priscilla Hotel, a male actor-turned-gangster who is “playing” the character of a Chinese woman overseeing the hotel. Meersy, as the girls call her, is always on the lookout for those young women – the hotel caters to young women – who are “all alone in the world” and fodder for the white slave trade of the Orient. Keith R. Smith plays Meers with a flair for the dramatic and for navigating in high heels. Smith does a nice job jockeying his character between the benevolent landlady he portrays to the girls and the tough guy he plays when making arrangements to have one of the girls sold for a handsome fee. They could’ve lightened up on Smith’s eye makeup, however.
Millie is on a mission in New York: to find a man. She thinks she finds him when she gets a job as a stenographer for Trevor Graydon (George Marn), whose substantial good looks and handsome bank account make him the ideal husband. That is, until she finds her true love – the slick playboy Jimmy Smith (Nate C. Groonwald).
Marn and Groonwald are perfect choices. Marn has a boyish manner. His Graydon is charmingly clueless to Millie’s advances. Loved the scene with Graydon and Millie’s friend Dorothy (Ashley Sprangers) as they camp up “I’m Falling in Love With Someone” with their polished, mature voices.
Bring mom back
Groonwald gives Jimmy charm and a little smarm, pairing up wonderfully with Miller’s Millie. The duo present an elegant, classy “I Turned the Corner” as they sing and dance their way off a ledge.
Smaller roles are also handled well, making every scene delightful and crisp. Anna Lapean and Delaney Schlake-Kruse are wonderful as the Chinese brothers Bun Foo and Ching Ho, working at The Hotel Priscilla to earn enough money to bring their mother over from China. Under the tutelage of Peter Kao, dialect and culture coach, the two present marvelous characterizations and a couple of charming tunes in their “native” tongue with translations shown on a screen above the set.
As Miss Flannery, the dowdy, strict supervisor at Millie’s office job, Denise Meagher too is a good choice, keeping her no-nonsense demeanor even while tap dancing!
Ashley Levells adds diva quality with her portrayal of Muzzy Von Hossmere, a popular nightclub singer belting out a couple of tunes with flair. Her tender, sincere conversation in her dressing room with Millie demonstrates her considerable acting skills.
All the performers – including an exceptional ensemble – had all the accoutrements to showcase their talents. Sharp monochromatic outfits, with dashes of color, in the office for “The Speed Test,” with its seated tap dancing, make that scene and “Forget About the Boy” to open Act 2 audience favorites. Gorgeous, glittery flapper outfits in beige and black give “The Café Society” scene tons of class. What a visual treat! A tip of the cloche hat to Nikki Maritch (costume designer), Sharon Sohner (assistant costumer designer) and Eric Welch (wig designer) for the fabulous boas, bobs and bobbles, and to Scott Prox (master carpenter) and Marisa Abbott (set designer and scenic artist) for the outstanding set.
There were lots of moving parts to this show, all handled with care and precision, resulting in a Thoroughly Entertaining Millie.
If you go
Who: Waukesha Civic Theatre
What: “Thoroughly Modern Millie”
When: Through April 14
Where: 264 W. Main St., Waukesha
Tickets/Info: 262-547-0708; www.waukeshacivictheatre.org