"Thoroughly Modern Millie" Is Thoroughly Entertaining

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Thoroughly Modern Millie runs through May 10 at the Kirkwood Community Center

I was recently invited to see Thoroughly Modern Millie at the Robert G. Reim Theatre in the Kirkwood Community Center. Millie, based on the 1967 film of the same name, was a hit on Broadway, winning a number of Tony Awards including Best Musical in 2002. I have always enjoyed works based on the 1920s, from art deco architecture aand design to the lavish lifestyles depicted in books like F. Scott Fitgerald's "The Great Gatsby." I had no idea what to expect from this show, but I had a hunch I'd enjoy it. I was right!

This Kirkwood Theatre Guild production of Thoroughly Modern Millie was a joy on many levels. The Robert G. Reim Theatre itself was very roomy with wide aisles where people can walk past you without you having to tuck your knees under your chin or evacuate your seat yourself. I didn’t feel like I was packed in like sardines in a tin even when someone sat down beside me. Comfort goes a long way towards enjoyment. The stage itself was spacious enough for the large ensemble to dance around and not trip over each other’s toes. The set was mostly comprised of an art deco-style wall that served its function as a period backdrop, and occasionally the simple inclusion of a set of doorframes turned the same wall into a hotel for single women (no unwedded cohabitation in those days) and a window frame turned the same backdrop into an office ledge for the musical’s central couple to dance with danger.

That couple was comprised of Leigha Stockton as Millie Dillmount and Jeffrey M. Wright as Jimmy Smith. Stockton is excellent job as the Kansas ingénue who arrives in New York City circa 1922 (the same year that the events in "The Great Gatsby" occur, if memory serves) and is promptly mugged for everything she owns, including one of the shoes on her feet. Jimmy is the first palooka she meets who gives her so much as a second glance. Being a “modern woman,” Millie plans to find a job, marry her boss for security rather than love, and thus achieve the American Dream. Her boss, Mr. Trevor Grayson, played by the terrific Troy Turnipseed, takes to calling Millie “John” and seems oblivious to her attempts at flirtation while the stenographer pool supervisor, Miss Flannery (Stephanie Merritt) tries to keep Millie on task. Away from the office, Millie and her friends, mostly single young ladies struggling to find acting jobs on Broadway, stay at the hotel run by Mrs. Meers, (Laura L. Kyro) a failed actress turned human trafficker who kidnaps girls nobody will miss and ships them off to China. I was surprised by the dark underbelly of the show, but it’s softened by the optimism of the darling couple and by the villainess’ two reluctant henchmen, Bun Foo and Ching Ho (Trung Tran and Allen Berryman respectively) who are only trying to earn enough money to bring their dear old mother to the United States while comically interfering with Mrs. Meers' plans. Jimmy has friends in surprisingly high places, including a famous actress just returned to the States from her European tour, Ms. Muzzy Van Hossmere (Joy Powell), who possesses a dynamic voice and a golden heart.

I knew what to expect from Jeffrey Wright—pure gold. He’s a tremendous actor and singer and he even shows off a dance move or two in this production as he wins Millie’s heart despite her modern sensibilities. I love how he can effect a Texas drawl in one production, channel the ghost of Paul Reiser (who’s not dead, don’t panic, just running with my Doris Roberts riff) in the next production, and then turn into a dyed in the wool Brooklyn boy in this show. I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Leigha Stockton perform anywhere else before and she did a wonderful job. Singing, acting, dancing—Leigha is the complete package. I particularly enjoyed her tap dance in the elevator with her gal pal Miss Dorothy Brown, played by the talented Breawn Bradford. Mrs. Meers is played by Laura L. Kyro who channels the ghost of Doris Roberts (Everybody Loves Raymond) in her performance. She’s at times sinister, at times hilarious (you’ll be saying, “So sad to be all alone in the world,” for days afterward), but I couldn’t help but think of Ray Romano’s TV mother every time she was on stage. That’s not a bad thing—I was always a big Doris Roberts fan. I hesitate to say she steals the show, because truly everyone puts in a strong performance, but whenever she was on stage I found myself leaning a little more forward to the edge of my seat, wondering what she was going to say or do next. Bravo, Laura! If there’s an Everybody Loves Raymond musical in the works—and what isn’t these days?—somebody needs to let the casting director know about Laura Kyro!

The choreography of Cecily Daguman and Robin Berger is delightful, from the Charleston to the tap routines to the rolling artistry of the stenographer pool. The large ensemble of Kathleen Balassi, Bob Becherer, Jon Bee, Priscilla Case, Robert Doyle, Paul Fortner, Corey Fraine, Courtney Gibson, Libby Griesedieck, Tracey Herweck, Sarah Hopp, Ellen Hunt, Kathryn Klein, Pat Klick, Melanie Kozak, Gabi Maul, Preston Murchison, Ashley Pavlige, Melody Valen Quinn, Kelsey Dakota Ramsey, Sara Steiner and Colleen Wyss (whew!) were in synch every step of the way. I was probably off by half a beat myself—there’s a reason why I’m on this side of the stage--tapping my own feet quietly to the beat provided by the excellent house band. Most if not all of the cast pulled double duty as set builders and to my eye they each handled every role they had with equal aplomb.

Director Dani Mann has put together a production that had me smiling from start to finish. I wish I had time in my sechedule to see it again before the end of it's run. Thoroughly Modern Millie is a thoroughly entertaining production by any measure.

Thoroughly Modern Millie runs May 1-3, and May 7-10, so you only have a few opportunities left to see this charming production. Visit http://www.ktg-onstage.org for information including how to get tickets, which I hear are going fast, so don’t wait! AYou can also find out more about the Kirkwood Theatre Group's upcoming 85th season featuring Rumors, Enchanted April, The Murder Room and The Addams Family at their website.

5.0 / 5.0