Thursday, July 02, 2009

Thorough indeed

So I haven’t written anything about the big kahuna in town, Barksdale’s “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” but there are plenty of other opinions about the show out there (Mr. Porter’s summary of “Millie” – as well as ones for “Summer of ’42,” and “Arsenic and Old Lace” – showed up on the WCVE site a coupla days ago, for instance). One reason is because of my preoccupation with a certain out of town production, a review of which just turned up online recently.

But also, it’s hard to know where to begin with this show, given everything it’s got going for it. I guess I’ll start with a bit of an interpretive dance, as it were. Ms. Lewis’s review in the T-D started out with that somewhat cryptic comment about the "relentless, nonstop" nature of the show. Here’s my interpretation of that: “Millie” has many – possibly all – of the aspects of a big old-fashioned musical that annoy the hell out of people who are not fans of big, old-fashioned musicals. People breaking out in song at odd times, broad characterizations -- some of them bluntly politically incorrect, impossible love stories, extravagant plot contrivances, and improbably happy endings. But for me – and I expect for most people – I ended up loving all of the things about old-fashioned musicals that can be annoying in less capable hands.

I can’t think of anything that was not well executed in this production (sometimes you have to resort to the double-negative). Starting with Paul Deiss’s music direction, the astounding set by Ron Heller, the beautiful costumes by Sue Griffin, even an excellent sound design by Derek Dumais. The only reason I don’t include Lynne Hartman’s lighting is because she has done such spectacular work in the recent past that when she is only very good, it hardly seems worth mentioning.

In the cast, in parts great and small, there are immense amounts of talent. At the end of the show, the actor I was most enamored of was Ali Thidodeau because, as Mr. Porter points out, it’s not always easy to play the one that every man falls in love with. Ms. Thibodeau is just so, well, lovable, that she makes it work. As I’ve gotten some distance from the production, when I think about favorite moments they involve Timothy Ford’s crisp portrayal of Mr. Graydon, or Linda Poser’s hilariously tragicomic Mrs. Meers, and the imperious Miss Flanery played by Carolyn Meade. And Chris Hlusko does an exceptional job with the somewhat thankless role of Ching Ho. This boy projects such a charming personality – I wish I had seen him as Aladdin at the Riverside.

Of course the leads are incredible, Maggie and Zac just as attractive as hell and excellent in their roles, with special recognition demanding to be paid to Ms. Marlin for her seemingly effortless athletic dancing ability. Seeing Ali and Maggie dancing together may be the best dancing duo I’ve ever seen on stage. And of course it’s Ms. D’Beck who gave them some fine choreography to work with, assisted by a spry ensemble (so great to see Gray Crenshaw’s dazzling smile again!)

With all of that (and I could go on…) you really have to work hard to get to something negative to say. I guess really the only issues I had were the crotchety plot elements – two rich kids sent out to find true love, the classic she’s-my-lover / she’s-my-sister misperception, white slavery!?!? – but again, everything was done so well that those things barely registered. Any lover of theater will be doing themselves a disservice to miss this show, if for nothing else, that it’s a bright shining example of how the grand old shows can still be done up well.

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