As musical director Luke Kirkwood smoothly conducted his fine backstage orchestra, the multi-colored lighting from designer, Charles page, softly illuminated the rice paper screens that lined the stage. The jazzy overture to this latest Texas Repertory Theatre production was the perfect appetizer as the audience settled down for what would be a delightful trip back to the Roaring Twenties and the world of “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” Based on the 1967 film, this edition, (featuring a book by Dick Scanlan & Richard Morris, with new music from Jeanine Tesori and new lyrics from Mr. Scanlan) is brightly directed by Craig A. Miller, though I must complain that the printed program, for reasons unknown, contained no synopsis of scenes or song list. That’s a “No, No!” But now back to our show: It is 1922, and small town gal, Millie Dillmount (Rachael Logue), has just arrived in the Big Apple with hopes of taking the secretarial path to marriage with a successful businessman. With her very lovely voice, a radiant Logue delivers a vocal winner right off the bat with the optimistic, “Not For the Life of Me.” The ensemble number features both classy costumes looking like a ’20’s fashion magazine layout, (designer, Sonia Lerner), and sparkling dancing that ignites the stage in what seems like a dazzling finale (choreographer, Kristen Vickers). The title tune (lyrics by Sammy Cahn, music by James Van Heusen) is another knockout with perky Millie surrounded by a colorfully costumed cast featuring a wide variety of fringed and eye-catching “flapper” dresses.
Next, we move to the Hotel Priscilla, managed by the comically conniving, Mrs. Meers (Lyndsay Sweeney at her Oriental best, and reminding me of Bloody Mary in South Pacific). Meers’ hotel caters especially to young career women with no family to notice if they are spirited away to China in the “White Slavery” trade. Miss Dorothy (Chelsea Hardy) is a new hotel guest befriended by Millie. The two pair delightfully for a “How the Other Half Lives,” that features some very smooth counterpoints; and their friends, Gloria (Blythe Kirkwood), Ruth (Tiffany Chen), and Alice (Kristyn Chalker) produce some great harmonies.
Meers plots hilariously with her two young Chinese henchman, Ching Ho (John Ryan del Bosque), and Bun Foo (John Morales). While the guys speak only Chinese, in a clever twist translations of the nonsense appear as amusing surtitles above the stage. Their banter with Meers gets off to a slow start, but the comedy catches fire with their duet reprise of “Not for the Life of Me.” For further comedy we have the severe Miss Flannery (Jen Lucy), the mean office supervisor at Millie’s newfound workplace. Her super-beehive hairdo is worth the price of a ticket. Then we have one of the show’s most impressive talents with handsome and vocally gifted Stephen Myers in the role of the pompous boss, Trevor Graydon. Millie has her eye on him, and whether speaking or singing, Myers’ powerful voice is a winner, and his flair for comedy is unmistakable as he delivers dictation via “The Speed Test,” spoofing the music of Gilbert & Sullivan. Sweeney gives us more laughs with the merry fun of Meers’ lament, “They Don’t Know.”
The speakeasy scene is great fun with high-energy choreography that is both slinky and vibrant. We meet Millie’s potential love interest, Jimmy (Joshua Estrada), as he sings a bright and breezy, “What Do I need With Love?” They end up at a chic party in the high society home of elegant Muzzy Van Hossmere (Shelly Auer). With the hostess in rich brown velvet and matching feather boa, formal attire is well represented with great costumes, and the guest list includes the likes of Cole Porter and Dorothy Parker. Auer’s pleasant voice may not be the strongest in the cast, but her final note of “Only in New York” was a homerun, and her enthusiastic performance is contagious.
Act Two explodes as Millie leads the secretarial pool in the rousing romp of “Forget About the Boy,” with the gals’ voices blending beautifully. Trevor and Dorothy have a cute flirtation with “I’m Falling in Love With Someone,” and Jimmy persists in his affection for Millie with the sweet, “I Turned the Corner.” All might be well, but Mrs. Meers is lurking ’round every corner plotting her next kidnapping, but the laughs keep coming as her co-conspirators join her to deliver their hilarious version of “Mammy” in Chinese. Another second act ensemble highlight is the jazzy flapper fun as Muzzy leads “Long As I’m Here With You.” Miss Auer looks like she’s ready to play Mame Dennis Burnside next. Then we get another chance to hear Logue’s powerful voice with her joyous, beaming and sassy, “Gimme Gimme.” There are some surprise pairings at the end of the show, but I’ll not spoil that for you here. Head on down to Texas Rep and find out for yourself. You’ll have a great time!
Thoroughly Modern Millie will run Thursday to Sunday through August 9th at the Texas Repertory Theatre, 14243 Stuebner Airline Rd. Houston, TX 77069. For tickets or more information, call the box office at 281-583-7573, or log onto www.texreptheatre.org.