Review: Thoroughly Modern Millie is throughouly enjoyable

While perhaps a little weaker than its youthful cousin Annie, the second show in this year’s Theatre Under the Stars season, Thoroughly Modern Millie, is still good fun with some great choreography and a lead actress that certainly knows her stuff.

Playing in repertoire with Annie this year, Thoroughly Modern Millie is another family-friendly musical, this time based on the 1967 movie starring Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore and Carol Channing.

Millie Dillmont (Diana Kaarina) is fresh off the bus from Kansas and is determined to find herself a husband in New York City.  Problem is she has set her eyes on her boss Trevor Graydon III (Seth Drabinsky) who is more interested in her friend Miss Dorothy (Meghan Anderssen) and despite her own growing doubts finds she is falling in love with poor, but fun-loving, paper-clip salesman Jimmy Smith (Danny Balkwill).  Add to this the mystery of the disappearance of some of the other young women at the hands of Mrs Meers (Sarah Rodgers), a couple of less-than-obliging Chinese henchmen (Aaron Lau and DaeYoung Kim) and it is safe to say there is enough material here to be two musicals.

Thoroughly Modern Millie
Diana Kaarina as Millie and the cast of Thoroughly Modern Millie.  Photo by Tim Matheson.

 

It is actually the length of the show that makes this show its own worst enemy as we move from scene to scene, through the various sub-plots, to the not unsurprising finale.  This has more to do with the book by Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan than this TUTS production who do their best, but don’t always succeed, in keeping the pace brisk.

Director Shel Piercy certainly recognizes a good thing and his casting of Diana Kaarina as Millie is note perfect.  Given her resume, though, it would have been surprising to see otherwise.  Given TUTS penchant for mixing professionals and amateurs on the same stage, I am sure the amateur actors in this production were over-the-moon to know they would be working with someone like Ms Kaarina.

But Kaarina is not the only one with here that does an outstanding job.  Seth Drabinsky, who we remember for his superb performance in Hedwig and the Angry Inch last year, does another great job this time as Mille’s boss, Trevor Graydon.  Drabinsky so nails the Gilbert-and-Sullivan-esque of “The Speed Test” and effectively channels the ghost of Nelson Eddy in “Ah Sweet Mystery of Life”, I found myself wondering how he might have fared in a larger role.

Rodgers’ Mrs Meers is delightfully over-the-top although I did find my political correctness needle moving into the red zone at times (damn you, my overly touchy PC conscience!) and Nancy Herb’s portrayal of the fading star Muzzy Van Hossmere was near perfect.

Choreographer Shelley Stewart Hunt brings some very tight choreography to the show and definitely puts her actors through their paces, although on a couple occasions found the dancing taking place stage left to be a distraction to the action taking place on the other side of the stage.  But despite this small criticism, given the wonderful choreography in this and TUTS’ other show Annie, 2009 is definitely the year for the company’s choreographers.

Set Designer Francesca Albertazzi wisely uses many of the same set pieces from Annie and while the sound was a bit more problematic than the night before with Annie, Sound Designer Paul Baker and his team definitely need to be praised for overcoming the inherent problems of putting on a musical in the great outdoors.  Let’s hope though that Lighting Designer Gerald King can fix the problems with the follow spots.

Director Shel Piercy brings it all together in a fun homage to the grand musicals of the 20s and 30s and while it could stand to be tightened up a bit, Millie is not only thoroughly modern, but thanks to its strong lead and equally strong choreography, it is thoroughly entertaining as well.

Thoroughly Modern Millie plays every second night in repertoire with Annie through August 22nd.

Tickets are available online through Tickets Tonight, by calling 604-684-2787 or at the gate starting at 1pm each day.

 

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