Sunday, March 04, 2007

Thoroughly Modern Millie

‘THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE’ lights up at Carousel

There is an old adage in the theatre, “The show must go on!” There are lots of legends about performers going on stage in the midst of tragedies and illnesses. Carousel Dinner Theatre has a reality tale to add to the list. On Saturday, Hollie Howard, who plays the title role of Millie in Carousel’s THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE,’ fell off the stage during the afternoon preview performance of the show. That evening was opening night!

What to do?

In the make believe world of theatre, as exemplified in such shows as ‘42ND STREET’ the understudy goes on, does a smash-up job and becomes a star. Well, that’s not what happened at Carousel. They mount their shows in a week, so the understudy doesn’t really get to learn her/his part until the show is running.

Howard, complete with taped ankle, went on after some adjustments to the choreography. Ironically, this was not the first injury for this production. Director Marc Robin, early in rehearsals, tripped over a piece of scenery, and hurt himself. Opening night was his first night off crutches.

Howard’s being hobbled hurt no one. In fact, if the announcement hadn’t been made before the show, the audience wouldn’t have known the difference. Howard danced well, sang even better, and portrayed the role to perfection.

In contrast to many musicals which are turned into films, ‘THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE’ was first a movie. It opened in 1967 and stared Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore, John Gavin and Carol Channing.

In the early 2000s, the movie was adapted for the stage. It maintained the basic story line of the movie but, in an effort to be politically correct, it toned down the stereotypical traits of the Asian characters in the film. (Some will still find those stereotypes offensive.)

The plot revolves around Millie Dillmount, who, in 1922 comes to the Big Apple from Kansas determined to marry her wealthy boss. She sheds her country girl image and becomes a “modern” flapper in order to hook her man. On her first day in NY, she accidentally trips Jimmy Smith, an apparently ne'er-do-well paper clip salesman. Yep, you guessed it. He isn’t a ne’er do well, and in the tradition of trite musicals, after a few obvious plot twists, they go off into the sunset. Well, into the bright lights of Broadway, to live happily ever after.

The show, which is filled with lots of upbeat songs and many dance numbers, including some great tap dance routines, is dynamic, thanks to Robin’s setting a lightening quick pace, clearly developing the characters, and adding some fun gimmicks (such as having the Chinese lines projected in English on screens on the sides and above the stage). But most of all, he explodes the stage with creative choreography.

The cast is excellent. Howard brings Millie to musical and dramatic life. Brian Ogilvie is properly wholesome as Jimmy Smith. He dances and sings well. Donna Ryan is so bad as the scheming Ms. Meers, that she is good. Christin Mortenson effectively lets loose her big voice in “Only in New York.” Lindsey Clayton is fun as Miss Flannery, an uptight boss who turns into a goodie. Jim Sorenson is Broadway handsome and effectively develops the over-bloated Trevor Graydon, the richie on whom Millie has her sights set. Even the male dancers, who are often the weak link in many musical productions, are excellent.

The music, the sets, the costumes all work.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Carousel’s ‘THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE’ is everything that makes for good dinner theatre...a sprightly production, featuring a well chosen cast, guided by excellent direction. If you like theatre-light and don’t want to think a lot, but have a good time, you’ll dance happily out of ‘THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE.’