BWW Reviews: THOROUGHLY MUSLIM MILLIE Thoroughly Mirthful

BWW Reviews: THOROUGHLY MUSLIM MILLIE Thoroughly Mirthful

Thoroughly Muslim Millie

Producer, Book and Lyrics by Ryan Landry, Directed by Larry Coen, Choreography by Julia Deegler and Gabriel Nesser; Vocal Coach, Tim Lawton; Set Design and Costume Design, Scott Martino; Set Design and Scenic Artist, Tom Acevedo; Lighting Design, James P. Byrne; Sound Design, Roger Moore

CAST: Ryan Landry, Bruta; Larry Coen, Dick Cheney; Jessica Barstis, Millie; Nash Hightower, Prince of Persia; Olive Another, Lynn Cheney; Penny Champayne, Natasha; Liza Lott, Diesel; Tim Lawton, Mary Cheney; Ensemble: Gabriel Nessser, Chris McVein, Adele Leikauskas, Bri Scafidi, William York

Performances through May 10 by the Gold Dust Orphans at Machine, 1254 Boylston Street, Boston, MA; Tickets:

There are times when the title of a Ryan Landry show is innocuous and you have to wait for the jokes and song parodies to get rolling before there is a hint of the good-humored, offensive material contained within. This time around, the Gold Dust Orphans are upfront with a moniker that smacks you in the face, but Thoroughly Muslim Millie insults the Catholic church and the Cheney family while leaving the followers of Islam largely unscathed. Of course, all of the barbs, slings, and arrows are aimed at the funny bone and encourage us to laugh at ourselves almost as much as we laugh at the shenanigans on the stage.

Landry chooses the perfect villains in Dick and Lynne Cheney, posing as nuns at the convent where Millie is a young postulant. Taking a theme from The Sound of Music, Millie (Jessica Barstis) is sent to care for the children of the Prince of Persia (Nash Hightower) and ultimately marry him to gain access to a large store of oil located beneath the palace. The Cheneys (Larry Coen and Olive Another) plan to co-opt the oil for their own purposes, but fail to account for spunky Millie's hesitation to bow down to the Prince (shades of The King and I), despite his hunkiness factor. The Prince's sister Diesel (Liza Lott) smells a rat and tries to intervene, but she gets distracted by camouflage-clad Mary Cheney (Tim Lawton) who wants to get back at her evil, power-hungry father, especially once she falls for Diesel.

It all sounds a bit convoluted, but it doesn't matter because the Orphans keep the story moving by breaking into song and dance numbers, backed by chorus boys and girls who can really deliver on the choreography by Julia Deegler and Gabriel Nesser. Joining Nesser in the dance ensemble are Chris McVein, Adele Leikauskas, and Bri Scafidi, and William York plays a handful of roles, including his spot on Bette Davis. This is a cast of accomplished singers, starting with Barstis (who soared like a bluebird as the title character in Snow White and the 7 Bottoms) who commands the stage, Lawton, and Lott. Millie has several great songs with Landry's inimitable lyrics, among them "Ring Their Bell," "Marry the Prince Today," and an incredibly clever parody of "Do Re Mi" substituting the name Moe Levine for Mohammed (which the Prince has forbidden her to utter).

High praise goes to Coen for his Cheney interpretation, all twisted mouth and scowls, and for the fact that he also directs the mirthful mayhem. Of course, it helps to have several GDO veterans in key roles - Another, Landry (Bruta, the Prince's first ex-wife), and Penny Champayne (Natasha, a Russian torture specialist in kinky boots). Lawton, Lott, and the rest of the ensemble double up on roles as needed, but they are augmented by puppets and cardboard characters. Speaking of cardboard, on opening night one of the set pieces was slightly less than stable and began to fall over at an inopportune moment. In keeping with her character, Champayne took charge and ad libbed, "Do I have to do everything?" (Alter ego Scott Martino is the scenic designer, as well as the costume designer.) The audience ate it up, perhaps hungry for the old days when the Orphans were looser, although no one is complaining about how far they've come.

Sets include the convent, mosques, minarets, the Prince's palatial quarters, and a miniature palace. Every area of the space is put to use, with scenes occurring on either side of the stage, as well as in front of the curtain. A disco ball over the audience comes into use for one of the musical numbers, casting its reflections around the room, and lighting designer James P. Byrne makes every production number special with his artistry. Roger Moore is the sound designer and strategically places handheld microphones for the vocalists to grab for their songs so you won't miss a lyric.

A big rave for Martino's costume designs which continue to belie the low-budget nature of the Gold Dust Orphans. Landry's black and gold floor-length outfit is an amazing piece of work, and the attire for Diesel and the Prince befits their royal station. Millie has several costume changes, among them a flowing blue dress with hoops that is reminiscent of something worn by Anna Leonowens, a white wedding dress, and black mesh tights worn under tails and a top hat. Natasha looks fierce in her boots and military tunic, and the dancers wear an array that includes colorful burkas and harem pants.

Thoroughly Muslim Millie ranks among Landry's funniest, with plenty of offenses to go around. However, there is an underlying thread encouraging religious tolerance and understanding, making the case that we're more alike than we are different. He pokes some fun at Muslims, chastises Catholics, and doesn't leave lesbians alone, but he aims the biggest and best skewers at the political believers. That's okay - nobody in the house shed any tears over the downfall of big Dick Cheney.

Photo credit: Michael von Redlich (Jessica Barstis and Company)

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