Thoroughly Modern Millie is – no surprise – a musical comedy about Millie who wants to be “modern.” That’s modern by 1920s standards, if you please – country girl comes to the big city, plots to marry her wealthy boss and they live happily ever after whether love comes with the package deal or not.
Of course, the plot thickens. Add in hidden identities, white slavery, heartbreak, lots of singing and dancing and you have a classic, grin-producing, love conquers all production.
Rivertown Repertory Theatre and director Gary Rucker chose wisely in selecting the toe-tapping slice of Jazz Age life for its 2007-08 season opener. The re-make of the 1967 movie starring such celebrities as Mary Tyler Moore, Julie Andrews, and Carol Channing, is refreshing and light-hearted and it hasn’t been overdone on local stages.
Rucker’s casting choices are splendid.
Kelly Hirling Fouchi, recognized most often for her dancing and choreography skills, spotlights cumulative talents in the title role. On stage throughout most of the production, Fouchi takes charge. She sings, dances and delivers her lines with strength, eagerness, and a touch of innocence while demonstrating the experience, talent and maturity it takes to handle a leading role. Opening the show with “Not for the Life of Me,” leading into the title song and “Forget about the Boy,” which opens the second act are her best vocal moments in the show. And, no question, her dance numbers, choreographed by herself and Casey Thompson, are stand-alone scenes.
Fouchi plays Modern Millie a bit on the sarcastic side, tinged by the knowledge of the 21st century contemporary businesswoman and less naïve than you might expect (not the Mary Tyler Moore perspective, for sure). But it works and will be appealing – and humorous for today’s woman who thinks she can have it all – with or without a husband.
Rich Arnold as Millie’s love interest also demonstrates diverse talents as singer, dancer and actor. From his initial encounter with Millie on the streets of New York to pursuing her from a 20-foot high window ledge, you are on his side – hoping that he will “get the girl” and make her modern dreams come true. Arnold has a natural stage presence, he is easy on the eyes and an apparent audience favorite. His presentation of “What Do I Need with Love” could be twice as long and you would still want a little more.
The show belongs to Fouchi and Arnold, but support from Tracey Collins as the villain Mrs. Meers, Karen Ann Cox as Miss Dorothy, Staci Robbins as Muzzi, Vatican Lokey as Millie’s boss, and the Chinese brothers played by Joe Siebert and Kyle Daigrepoint is strong and smoothly presented. Youngsters who attend the show will especially enjoy Siebert's and Daigrepoint's comedic contributions.
The best numbers in Rivertown’s Millie, however, are its dance numbers. Strong male and female dance ensembles – not easy to find these days – execute several fast-paced numbers, reflecting the style and feel of the “roaring twenties.”
Chris Adams’ set design is adequate but not up to the previous Repertory standards. If budget constraints are the rationale for a less-than-jazzy set, someone needs to step up and secure better funding for future productions. The show calls for a drop down screen providing Chinese to English and English to Chinese translations – in fact, it’s a significant “prop” to enhance comic elements. It doesn’t work very well. You have to choose – and this may depend on where you are seated – between the action on the stage and the words on the curtain above.
The opening number female costumes looked wrinkly and ill fitting, enough to distract from the overall presentation for a few minutes. As the show goes on, however, the costumes get better from Miss Dorothy’s frilly gowns to Millie’s straight from a flapper’s closet garments. Remember K & B purple? You’ll see it on Vatican Lokey early on in the show – you won’t forget it!
If you are on the overly critical side and if you’ve seen professional productions of Thoroughly Modern Millie, you may be on the disappointed side, especially with set and costume design. But if you enjoy musical comedies, Millie fits the classic formula - the music is pleasant, the dancing delightful and Rivertown’s cast is charming. You will see some faces from the past, some new faces and some faces that you may not have seen on stage in awhile and that’s good for community theatre in New Orleans.
Back Row Facts
Length of Play – two and a half hours including one 15-minute intermission.
Language and Lewd Factor – hey, what a joy! No bad language. Even white slavery is explained as kidnapping with no extra details.
Family Fitness – good for all ages although kids under seven or eight may find some parts a little too slow for their liking.
It’s a puzzlement! See if you can count the number of costume changes for Millie. And where did that purple-colored suit for Trevor Greydon really come from?