Millie is the story of a small town girl coming to New York City in the early 1920s. Millie Dillmount (Tari Kelly) has a few goals, which includes to be a “modern” woman with a short dress, a bobbed haircut, and a job, and also to marry her rich boss—whenever she gets one. The only cheap housing she can find after being robbed of her purse is the Hotel Priscilla for Single Women, run by Mrs. Meers, a con woman (Beth Leavel) who sells residents with no family to miss them into white slavery in China. Millie finally gets a steno pool job and a boss, Mr. Graydon (Stephen R. Runtrock), but standing in the way of marital monetary bliss is Jimmy Smith (Andrew Samonsky), a carefree guy she first meets on the street and immediately dislikes. Of course, despite her declaration she will marry only for money (and love may come later), after all is said and done, Millie ends up marrying Jimmy for love.
Other characters of note include Miss Dorothy (Megan McGinnis), a ‘sweet young thing’ who becomes Millie’s best friend, Muzzy Van Hossmere (Leslie Uggams), a chanteuse, and the widow of a multi-millionaire, who lives life to the full, head stenographer Miss Flannery (Tory Ross), and brothers Ching Ho (Francis Jue) and Bun Foo (Darren Lee), Mrs. Meer’s accomplices in getting the kidnapped women smuggled to Hong Kong. All added a lot to the success of the production.
Having attended loads of MUNY shows in past years, and comparing them with what I saw Monday evening, I was impressed with this production’s freshness regarding just about everything. First, this is Mike Isaacson’s first show as the new Executive Producer of the MUNY. Considering he was an original producer for Millie on Broadway, this show just HAD to look good, and it did. The cast were all on voice (some of them EXCELLENT), the dance numbers were clever and sparkling, the costumes colorful and seemingly of the period, the stage turntable used several times to good advantage, set construction was massive, solid, and clean, the set colors bright any shiny and rich, the set graphics highly detailed (which I haven’t seen at the MUNY for several years), and the new LED background lends…something. It was nothing spectacular given the low resolution of its images—and its muscular supporting structure—but something. Also fresh and bright for me were some of the songs, including “Not for the Life of Me,” “The Speed Test,” “Forget About the Boy,” and “Gimmie, Gimmie.”
Was it a perfect show? Not quite. The plot is a tad ancient, some of the songs are just padding, the characterizations aren’t entirely PC, the accent for the ‘oriental’ Mrs. Meers is so thick you many times can’t understand what is being said, and the Chinese ‘subtitles’ system was not always in sync with the dialog.
But I walked away happy, impressed, and encouraged that the MUNY may be returning as major musical theatre force in St. Louis, something I don’t think it’s really been for a while.
Thoroughly Modern Millie runs 2:40 with a 20-minute intermission. It continues at the MUNY through Sunday, June 24, 2012. For more information visit muny.org or call 314-361-1900.