DCT's "Millie" Thoroughly by the Book
SHOW INFORMATION: Through May 11. Fri – Sat at 8PM, Sun at 3PM. Go to www.ccbcmd.edu for more information.
◊◊◊out of five. 2 hours, 45 minutes, including intermission. Mild adult humor and situations.
A lot of people love the old-fashioned musical style – lots of tap dancing, characters that make you laugh and a love story that, no matter what obstacles come up, is sure to have a happy ending before the final curtain. Add a couple of through the roof ballads and a star-turn or two and you have a huge success on your hands. Such was the case with Thoroughly Modern Millie when it opened on Broadway, and, it would seem is the case as well at Dundalk Community Theatre's production which opened last weekend and concludes its run this Sunday. Like I said, so it would seem. This production has all of the right pieces, and even though it is the most well put together musical I've reviewed at this venue, it still lacks the one thing it needs to send Millie into musical theatre heaven – oomph. Instead, director Tom Colonna and company have put together a sturdy, everything in its place, by the book presentation.
The irony, of course, is that the show is chock full of over the top characters and situations. Millie is one of those shows where playing it straight exposes its flaws – in this case way too much plot and catchy but unmemorable songs. Mr. Colonna's direction seems very careful. That is, it looks fine, and probably reads beautifully in his director's script, but to a person, everyone seems to be holding back – sometimes just a smidge, sometimes a lot, but always in some measure. A perfect overall example of this is Craig Cipollini's choreography, which comes dangerously close to exact reproduction of the Broadway version, most notably in the title number. He has selected a well-above average ensemble of dancers who tap in unison, wave their arms in unison and get every single step exactly as choreographed. But there is almost no sense of "wow!" as is evidenced by the polite, but not thunderous, applause after each production number. (The house was packed and the noise level low.)
That sort of malaise plagues nearly every performer, but it is not for lack of talent. No, they all sing well and have a firm grasp on their characters, but they are reminiscent of horses lined up at the Preakness gate, chomping at the bit to bet let free. And considering the vast amount of experience in this company, I have to think that it was directed as such.
Still, the performances are, for the most part, very good with a lone exception. Deborah Desmone's Muzzy Van Hossmere is technically proficient. She is acting, she has every line down, does her limited choreography, sings every song and every note exactly right and looks glamorous in her costumes. But Muzzy, if nothing else, is larger than life – a beacon of the high life, jaded with experience and effervescent with joie de vivre. Not so in Ms. Desmone's interpretation, which is decidedly bland, rendering a good bit of the end of act one boring, and a key scene in act two completely out of focus. In that scene we should be watching the great Muzzy work the New York crowd. Instead, we find ourselves admiring the precision of her "boys" doing the chorus thing amazingly well. As necessitated by the plot, Millie goes to her to seek advice, but as presented one wonders why Millie is so taken by this woman.
The rest of the supporting cast is good. Lisa Pastella does the best she can with what little the role of Miss Flannery offers, though I wondered throughout what she would have been like with some license to let loose. As villainess Mrs. Meers' unwitting sidekicks, Drew Gaver and Lauren Everd steal nearly every scene they are in because they have a ton of energy and seem to understand the melodramatic aspects of their roles – not bad considering they are speaking Chinese throughout. Here, it is a shame that Marc W. Smith's lighting wasn't a tad more focused because it rendered the hilarious subtitles virtually unreadable. I'd venture a guess that more than a few patrons missed them altogether.
Silly heroine Miss Dorothy is played most correctly by Jacki Walsh, who relies a bit too much on the add a giggle to every funny line routine favored by many musical theatre actresses. While she is sweet and charming throughout, her energy level was wildly uneven, almost as if she were reserving her highest energies for her favorite scenes. She has a lovely soprano voice, that, despite bizarre microphone issues (most sounded as if smothered by a pillow) comes out clear as a bell and at least each lyric was intelligible. Her primary male scene partner is Ken Ewing as Trevor Graydon, a veteran of the role (he played the part better at Toby's, to be completely honest). This time around, his shtick isn't shticky enough, his swagger lacks stature, and he looks bored. In this version, he is played almost entirely for laughs, which fall mostly flat after it becomes apparent that one dimension is all he's offering up this time. (Again, having seen him do the role better, I have to fault the direction.)
A long time fan of Liz Boyer Hunnicutt, I have to say I was not at all disappointed with her rendition of Mrs. Meers. Ms. Hunnicutt is a master comedienne, able to deliver zinger after zinger with sharpshooter precision. Her thick Chinese-American English is a scream, particularly because you can actually understand every single word of it, and her "They Don't Know" was the closest thing to a show-stopper all evening. It is good to know that whenever you see her name in the program you never have to worry about a half-hearted or misguided performance. Joe Frollo's Jimmy Smith also shows the complete range required of the role, equal parts funny guy and leading man/hero. Mr. Frollo has a pleasant voice, and serves his two big numbers, "What Do I Need With Love" and "I Turned the Corner" quite well. He also matches his co-star quite well, more than holding his own against a real pro. Again, I wondered what he would have been like if he weren't so restrained.
The unenviable task of being the lead in Thoroughly Modern Millie must be that you must sustain an energy level and moxie for nearly three hours, with very little offstage time. Thankfully, DCT got a hold of one of the area's finest younger actresses to play their Millie, Becca Vourvoulas. Like Ms. Hunnicutt, Miss Vourvoulas is a local favorite of mine and the community. She exudes warmth and style, and an unerring professionalism – not to be confused with rote or stiff. To the contrary, she is completely natural and utterly believable every second of her performance. An accomplished dancer, she does very well in the production numbers. A gifted comedienne, she is a great straight man for Mrs. Meers and a terrific comic foil for the two men in her life, Trevor and Jimmy. And boy, can this girl belt them out! From the opening "Not for the Life of Me" right through to her 11 o'clock "Gimme Gimme," she is in fine voice – an amazing belt and a lovely softer side. In this Millie, the trio of Millie-Jimmy-Meers is a winning trifecta. They are strong highlights in a more subdued tapestry.
DCT's Millie is entertaining and fun if not dazzling. Go for the three leads – you won't be disappointed in them.
PHOTOS: Courtesy of DCT. TOP to BOTTOM: Lisa Pastella (Miss Flannery) and Joe Frollo (Jimmy Smith); Lauren Everd (Bun Foo), Drew Gaver (Ching Ho), Jacki Walsh (Miss Dorothy) and Liz Boyer Hunnicutt (Mrs. Meers); and Joe Frollo (Jimmy Smith), Becca Vourvoulas (Millie Dillmount) and Ken Ewing (Trevor Graydon).