Millie, Take 2

This afternoon, we trundled out to Simi Valley to see Thoroughly Modern Millie (myspace) again. I say “again”, because we last saw TMM at the Ahmanson Theatre in June 1994 2004. Back then, I thoroughly enjoyed the singing and dancing, but noted the plot problems the show had. However, we didn’t bring nsshere to the show with us… and since then, she’s grown enamored of the music. So, when I saw a production at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, it was off to Goldstar to get tickets.

For those not familiar with the show, the stage version of Millie is a remake of the 1967 film starring Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore, and Carol Channing. A few songs were kept from the movie, and some original songs by Dick Scanlan and (lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori (music) were added. The musical maintains the basic story line of the movie but, in an effort to be politically correct, tones down many of the stereotypical traits associated with the Asian characters in the film. The plot revolves around Millie Dillmount, who escapes to New York City from Salina, Kansas determined to marry her wealthy boss – whomever he may be. Shedding her country girl image for the modern look of a “flapper,” she takes a room at the Priscilla Hotel for Women and gets a job as a stenographer at the Sincere Trust Insurance Company. In short time, she finds herself involved with Jimmy Smith, an apparently ne’er-do-well paper clip salesman, Miss Dorothy Brown, a genteel aspiring actress who never seems to have spare change, Trevor Graydon, her no-nonsense boss, and Muzzy van Hossmere, a madcap Manhattan heiress with a zest for the high life. The Priscilla Hotel proves to be a front for a white slavery ring, headed by Mrs. Meers, the property’s proprietor, and her two bumbling Asian henchmen. Her ideal target is an attractive orphaned girl with no family who won’t be missed if she suddenly disappears. Millie, who gets mail from home on a regular basis, is hardly a likely candidate, but Miss Dorothy (as she insists she be called), who hasn’t a soul in the world, is perfect. Of course, there are various complications in the love story, but things all work out well in the end.

So, how did the Actors’ Repertory Theatre of Simi do? For a community theatre, not bad at all. Let’s go area by area.

For the most part, the casting was excellent. Particular kudos go to Anna Desiree Graves (Millie Dilmount) who did a fantabulous job. This lady is a triple threat: she sings well, she acts well, and she dances great… and her enthusiasm comes across. I think she’ll go far. Also worthy of note was Rosemary Blankson (Muzzy van Hossmere), who was another triple threat. I was also impressed with Ryan Neely (Trevor Graydon), who showed a remarkable comic side (and who reminded us of an older version of one of our favorites, Kevin Earley, who played the role at the Ahmanson on Broadway [thanks, shutterbug93]). Alas, the casting was a bit off for Jimmy Smith: although Cameron Fife was a remarkable actor and dancer, his voice wasn’t quite in the range needed for the songs… and as a result, a few notes were off. Other main players in the cast included Farley Cadena (Mrs. Meers), Chris Hsu (Ching Ho), Marla McClure (Miss Dorothy Brown), and Mel Wong (Bun Foo). The ensemble, playing various not-explicitly-named roles, included Jenna Davi, Rachel K. Evans, Jennifer Fenten, Michael Robin Garcia, Wendy Kenney, Matthew Lawrence, Ian Loveall, Austin Miller, Michelle Pariso, Tania Possick, Gillian Samhamel, Alison Siegel, Corey Slack, Jessica Stone, and Rodrigo Roman Suarez.

Moving to the technical side of things. This is a small theatre, and the 8-piece orchestra (under the musical direction of Gary Poirot) did an excellent job, with one exception: the trumpet player. He didn’t quite make all of his notes, and the ones he didn’t make were painful. I think this show really needs more than one horn, and a slightly larger musical section would have worked better. The set design by David Daniels was reasonable for the stage size, and I particularly liked the integration of the projector. Costume design was by Ben Kahookele and Shon Le Blanc, and was reasonable except for Mille’s outfit at the top of Act 2: the yellow T-shirt-ish top served to focus the attention on her (ummm) chest, and not her excellent singing and dancing. The costume needed to be more in the 1920’s slinky style. The production was produced and directed by Jan Glasband and David Daniels, with choreography by Seth Kamenow and Kristina Stieffel. Technical direction and lighting design was by Christian West, and the stage was managed by Kaelia Franklin.

Surprisingly, for all the credits in the playbill, the most important ones were left off. The book was by Richard Morris (from his original screenplay for the 1967 film of the same name), and most (but not all) music and lyrics were by Dick Scanlan (lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori (music). The production runs through April 1, 2007.

So, will we go back to the Simi Cultural Arts Center? Quite likely, depending on the show. For a community theatre, they did a reasonable job, and they seem have a good set of musicals in their repertoire. We’re not that interested that much in the remainder of the 2007 season, as we’ve seen The Wizard of Oz and Ragtime.

As for us, the theatre calendar for the next few weeks is getting quite busy indeed: “They’re Playing Our Song” at Valley Musical Theatre on Sat Mar 3rd @ 2pm; Big Bad Voodoo Daddy at CSUN on Sat, Mar 10th @ 8pm; “Songs for a New World” at the ELATE Lincoln Stegman Theatre on Sat Mar 17th @ 8pm; “The Beatles Slept Here” (a Moorpark Melodrama from the High Street Theatre Foundation) at the Secret Garden Restaurant (tickets) on Sun Mar 18th at 1:30pm; “The Last 5 Years” at REP East on Sun Mar 25th at 2pm; “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on Sat Mar 31st at 2pm; and “Cuttin Up’” at the Pasadena Playhouse on Sat Apr 7th at 8pm. I’ll be looking on Goldstar for tickets for “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” through Broadway/LA (tickets go on sale 3/18)… and through HotTix, tickets for “Jersey Boys” at the TaperAhmanson (tickets on sale 3/12). As I said… a busy, busy, theatre spring.