If you’re looking for some escapist summer theatre, you can’t do much better than Thoroughly Modern Millie, now playing at Huron Country Playhouse until June 22.
Featuring a stellar cast, including well known television star, Cindy Williams – best known for her role as Shirley Feeney on the classic sitcom Laverne & Shirley – the play is a whimsical song-and-dance romantic musical comedy set in New York City in The Roaring Twenties.
Featuring brassy jazz-inspired hits like “Not for the Life of Me,” “Forget about the Boy,” and the popular titular tune, the play is a great opener for Huron Country Playhouse’s 2019 season.
Based on the 1967 film of the same name, Thoroughly Modern Millie opened on Broadway to great acclaim in 2000 winning six Tony Awards®, including Best Musical.
The plot is flimsy, but fun: Small-town naïve girl, Millie Dillmount (played by Drayton favourite Jayme Armstrong) from Kansas, arrives in New York City seeking a better life. She wants to marry for money instead of love – apparently a “thoroughly modern” goal in 1922. In Millie’s mind, this means becoming a secretary for a wealthy man and then convincing him to marry her.
Shortly after her arrival, she optimistically tears up her return ticket and undergoes a complete makeover turning her into a typical 1920s flapper with bobbed hair and short hemmed skirt. Unfortunately, this being the Big Apple, Millie is quickly mugged, losing her hat, scarf, purse and one shoe. Panicking, she trips passerby Jimmy Smith (another Drayton veteran Billy Lake), a handsome young man, who advises her to go back to Kansas as she doesn’t belong in the big city. Taking offence, Millie yells after him, “Who needs a hat? Who needs a purse? And who needs you, mister whoever-you-are?”
Friendless and penniless, Millie ends up in the Hotel Priscillia, a run-down establishment filled with young women like herself. It is also owned by the scheming Mrs. Meers (played deliciously evil by Ms. Williams) whose ulterior motives for taking in the homeless girls soon becomes obvious.
Without giving away anymore of the story, let’s just say Millie’s modern plan doesn’t work out, she ends up with her true love, and the villainous actions of Mrs. Meers are thwarted. The play also has a very interesting unexpected reveal at its conclusion.
Theatre-goers looking for witty dialogue, jaw-dropping song and dance numbers, great period costumes and sets will not be disappointed.
Beginning with the dazzling opening number, Thoroughly Modern Millie, the audience knows that they are about to experience something rather special.
I don’t know what the costume budget for the play is, but let’s just say it must be astronomical. All characters look like they just stepped out of a time machine from the 1920s. Kudos to Costume Designer Vincent Scassellati and his coordinator Jessica Pembleton.
And the sets! I lost track of how many set changes Thoroughly Modern Millie has, almost a different one for each song. Again, all recreate 1920s New York in an art deco motif. Hats off to Set Designer Ivan Brozic, a Drayton veteran.
But, make no doubt about it, it’s the marvelous song and dance numbers performed masterfully by the cast’s principle characters and Ensemble company that make this play as entertaining as it is.
Jayme Armstrong is entirely convincing as the quirky and impulsive spunky Millie Dillmount. The audience shares her wonderment and naivete and her joy and heartbreak. Her vocal chops enable her to convey the appropriate emotion in every song she sings. Onstage for almost the entire play, Armstrong’s performance is a true tour de force.
Billy Lake’s portrayal of Jimmy Smith, the streetwise young man who gradually wins Millie’s heart, is equally convincing. His duets with Armstrong are marvelous. And, I especially liked a scene in which he mimed standing on a skyscraper ledge while wooing the reluctant Millie.
Kayla James is delightful as the bubbly Miss Dorothy Brown, who claims she has come to NYC to learn “How The Other Half Lives.”
Other cast members and the Ensemble Company mesh perfectly with the principal characters to make Thoroughly Modern Millie move along at an almost breakneck pace.
To be quite honest, I feared that the inclusion of Cindy Williams in the cast would be a distraction, but after the initial applause when she first appeared onstage, she fit nicely into the flow and ebb of the play. Her portrayal of the villainous Mrs. Meers, with its over-the-top exaggerated fake Chinese accent, was spot-on.
To be sure, its choreography is what makes Thoroughly Modern Millie memorable. Every song and dance number is a play within a play where the play’s costumes and sets are on full display.
And dance? I was exhausted just watching the cast members go through their paces on stage!
A highlight is when the stenographers at Sincere Trust Insurance Company, where Millie works, use tap shoes and desks on wheels to simulate the tap, tap, tap of their typewriters.
A major shout-out to Michael Lichtefeld who doubles as the play’s Director and Choreographer. Thank you, Sir, for your hard work!
It goes with saying that the pit band is an essential part of any musical play. Here again, Music Director Steve Thomas has put together an impressive group of musicians who play like a 1920s jazz band. There were some “dirty” horn sounds coming out of the pit in several of the musical numbers.
Overall, this production has lots going for it and it’s well worth the short drive to Grand Bend. It’s perfect summer escapist theatre that allows you to park your brain in neutral for two hours.
Thoroughly Modern Millie is on stage from June 5 to June 22. Tickets may be purchased in person at the Huron Country Playhouse, online at www.huroncountryplayhouse.com or by calling the Box Office at (519) 238-6000 or toll free at 1-855-DRAYTON (372-9866).
Regular performance tickets are $48 for adults; $29 for youth under 20 years of age. Tickets for select Discount Dates and groups of 20 or more are $39. HST is applicable to all ticket prices.
Review prepared by Rick Young, a London freelance writer and administrator of The Beat Magazine and Aging Well Celebrating The Young At Heart Facebook Pages.