It is Thoroughly Modern Millie. Wait a minute. Wasn’t that a movie from the Swinging Sixties set in the Roaring Twenties? Yes, but, much more recently, it became a retooled theatrical hit on Broadway and, not counting a couple of high school productions, it is making its local stage debut at the Kenner playhouse to commence Rivertown Repertory Theater’s 20th anniversary season.
The book is by Richard Morris & Dick Scanlan with new music by Jeanine Tesori and lyrics by Scanlan. Other than the title song, the original score might not be familiar but versions of old standards also pop up from time to time. A rendition of “Mammy” in Mandarin Chinese is a not-to-be-forgotten moment and when is the last time you heard “Ah, Sweet Mystery Of Life” on stage...or anywhere else?
If you are to hear it, who better to hear it from than Vatican Lokey with his fantastic vocal range? Though a strong dance show, the vocal element is not overlooked and - in addition to Lokey - that is taken up by Richard Arnold and Staci Robbins. Hardly “just” Abby Lake’s nephew, Arnold makes one wonder how any director in his right mind could consider staging a good old-fashioned musical without him as the prototypical juvenile.
Director Gary Rucker is quite pleased with his cast and takes special pride in the fact that it features something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.
The “old” is represented by such veteran local performers as Leslie Limberg, Lacey Faucheaux, Frannie Rosenberg, Megan Sauzer Harms, Joe Seibert, Michael Tramontin, Dwayne Sepcich (looking like a young Larry Hagman), Kyle Daigrepont (surely this generation’s Fu Manchu), the irrepressible P.J. McKinnie, and Carrie Black, a Sweetheart of Rivertown.
Reliable Wayne Gonsoulin virtually rose from a sickbed to take the stage in this outing...but, well, Wayne seems to always be arising from a sickbed.
Dr. Brian Rosenberg came out of early retirement to be part of the proceedings after having his competitive nature challenged by Dr. Clayton Mazoue’s return to the song’n’dance realm in The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas across town.
The “new” includes Monique Abry, Tyler Ales, Jennifer Allison, Carrie Daigle, Cherie Daigle, Katie DelGiorno, Rebecca Duckert, Darren Hayes, Janie Heck, Heidi Jackson, Harold Jenkins, Jill Marie Kenyon, Bryce Turgeon, and Lance Ural.
Something borrowed is made manifest by old pro Tracey Collins, on loan from Thoroughly Modern Millennium on hiatus. (Oh, you know those shows will always come back.) Collins plays the villainous Mrs. Meers. She speaks with over a quarter century’s experience when she marvels at how many young men there are in the show who can actually sing and dance. From a technical standpoint, she calls the production an “overwhelming undertaking.”
Something blue is Lucas Harms. Originally cast in a leading role as Trevor, he learned his presence was required at a family wedding in Mississippi. While his dedicated better-half Megan makes all performances, he gracefully relinquished his role to Lokey for the first two weeks. Lucas will return for the remainder of the run. Sent a videotape of a rehearsal, Vatican joined the cast a week prior to opening and was nearly letter perfect in his part...though he and Lucas do have different interpretations of the role.
Young boys in the 1960's (or so I’m told) could scarcely believe their luck when the two Dreamgirls of the age - Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore - turned up in the same film. Okay, in the interest of equal time, I suppose some boys were just as overjoyed at the prospect of watching John Gavin. Now, old boys of the 2000's can re-experience some of that same thrill at the prospect of the teaming of Kelly Fouchi and Karen Ann Cox. The lovely Cox displays a fine singing voice and oo-la-la presence in the role of the nice-but-naughty Dorothy.
The continuing success story of Kelly Fouchi is like an age-old theatrical legend. No flash-in-the-pan-one-hit-wonder-overnight-success-Michael-Tramontin-where-are-they-now girl is she. Starting off as a chorine, she steadily worked her way to dance captain, assistant choreographer, choreographer, and musical comedy star. In short, a real trouper. An accomplished dancer, the fact that she has great gams too almost seems like pouring it on the competition. In the title role of Millie Dillmount, she rightfully carries the show. The dancing, of course, is top notch but her singing is also sure and the comedy is deft.
Last year, she branched out from the musical scene into a straight role in Barefoot In The Park. Appropriately, she portrayed the wife of her real-life husband Marc Fouchi on the stage where they first met. The play was Guys And Dolls, the place was Rivertown, the year was 1999 - everything is as it was then except...You Are There. So was I. It was then that they had their first kiss - an “impromptu move” from his Sky Masterson to her Havana girl. At least that’s his story. Personally, I’d like to poll Cari Pope, Carrie Black, and Danielle Harrell to see if there was any other “impromptu” kissing going on. I know for a fact that my Lt. Brannigan wasn’t going around planting impromptu kisses on the chorus girls.
That fall they were reunited in Me And My Girl at Rivertown and on New Year’s Eve, during a break from rehearsing The World Goes Round at RRT, he proposed. The then Miss Kelly Hirling lent her engagement ring to Marc nightly to use as a prop while he performed “Marry Me’ in the World Goes Round production. Marc then reprised the song as Kelly walked down the aisle a year to the day later.
Who would have thought Rivertown was such a hotbed of romance? Well, it was certainly cheaper than actually taking a girl out on a date.
The hits kept coming. Kelly was three months’ pregnant with their daughter Tess when she did Crazy For You and pregnant again with little Savannah during Big River, both at Rivertown. More recently, the precocious Tess made her stage “debut” by doing a voiceover for last season’s And Then There Were None.
The latter was, of course, directed by the “other man” in Kelly’s life - Gary Rucker. Millie marks the 13th time the pair have teamed up. This is perfectly fine with Kelly whose lucky number is 13, having been born at 6:13 on a September 13 - so, as this is written, she is celebrating her birthday. Her birthday rolls around like clockwork every year at the same time a season opening musical is in the works and classes open at her school, Encore Dance Studio - her wing of the vast Fouchi Entertainment Empire. Encore, incidentally, employs Millie’s Mr. Arnold, Dr. Black, Ms. Rosenberg, and Mrs. Harms.
On top of all that, Kelly is also Rucker’s co-choreographer on Millie with Casey Leigh Thompson. Rucker and Fouchi, naturally, have a close and enduring creative relationship but - even with Marc playing Mr. Mom - assuming all the choreographic chores would be spreading herself just a tad too thin. This will be one of Casey’s last local assignments before her October move to New York in the wake of turning the hat trick of taking the Big Easy, Storer Boone, and Marquee awards for her work in JPAS’ Amadeus, her first non-musical.
Veteran Linda Fried designed the costumes and made use of both rented and original wardrobe. Lori Dewitt returns to RRT as musical director, a task made easier by not having to deal with live musicians this time around.
What more could a show need? Thrills and chills? Thoroughly Modern Millie’s got that, too, with a practical on-stage elevator guaranteed to provide heart-stopping action and white-knuckle suspense to audience and cast alike.
Such matters fall in the purview of RRT’s new tech crew, with Chris Adams designing the set and Shawn Ramagos the lighting. Returning old regulars include Rick Monsey on flies and former child prodigy Chris Ward in the sound booth. Young but experienced Jamie Montelepre makes her Rivertown stage management debut and the crew also includes Chastity Hartman.
Maybe I’m just a sucker for any show that features flit spray cans but this Millie is so much more. It’s all singing, all dancing, all new, with a cast of favorites featuring can’t-miss work by Vatican Lokey, Tracey Collins, Rich Arnold, Karen Ann Cox, and headed by the iridescent Kelly Fouchi, with that special touch of Director Gary Rucker which is swiftly becoming a “Ruckertown” tradition.
The musical comedy Thoroughly Modern Millie will open on September 14 and is scheduled to run through the 30th, with performances Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m. The theater is located at 325 Minor Street in Kenner’s Riverton district and information may be obtained at 504-468-7221.