By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III “The People’s Critic”
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It was not your normal Saturday night at the beautiful Crighton Theater last weekend in downtown Conroe, Texas. As might be expected, the current Broadway musical revival of “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” from the resident Stage Right Productions Company, was full of many charms from the eager cast of local talent, with lively direction from Manny Cafeo.
That’s the good news, so let me be more specific. The cheerful musical has Music by Jeanine Tesori & Lyrics by Dick Scanlan (and the latter also collaborated with Richard Morris on the Book). The Roaring Twenties period plotline surrounds the arrival in New York City of young Millie Dillmount (Lizzie Camp) from her native Kansas.
She is eager to conquer the Big Apple with her secretarial skills while hopefully finding the well-to-do man of her dreams.
Her bright optimism is quickly challenged as she is robbed on the street, and then suddenly bumps into (literally) a young man named Jimmy (Cain Hamilton), who abruptly advises that she first spend the night at the cheesy Hotel Priscilla that caters to struggling young career girls, and then head back to Kansas where she came from.
The hotel owner is the conniving and sinister, Mrs. Meers (coyly played for plenty of laughs by Carolyn Corsano Wong). Meers likes nothing better than to capture young girls with no family and ship them off to the Chinese white slavery trade. She has two bumbling Chinese laundry boys (amusingly played by Ara Hollyday and Steven Wong) who want nothing more than to bring their aging mother to America from Hong Kong. (Don’t miss their uproarious Chinese rendition of the song “Mammy,” and the sur titles projecting English translations of their silly banter above the stage).
Meanwhile, during a terrific and tongue-twisting duet of “The Speed Test,” Millie lands a job as personal secretary to the man she hopes to marry, wealthy Trevor Graydon III (Michael Martin), the boss of Sincere Trust Co. Millie’s marriage plan is complicated with the arrival at the hotel of a classy ingénue named Dorothy (Madison Mapes).
Dorothy soon catches the eye of Mr. Graydon herself during their hilarious first-meeting duet spoofing the style of Nelson Eddy & Jeanette Mac Donald with a medley of “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life”/”I’m Falling in Love with Someone.” It must be mentioned that the secretarial pool of talented young gals in this cast is clearly one of the stars of the show as they bring absolutely wonderful singing and tap dancing to the show, even when rolling around on their office chairs.
Similarly, the many-talented ensemble cast of characters from the hotel light up the show repeatedly with great song and dance for the production’s many lovely tunes. (Choreographer, Dinah Mahlman, Musical Director, Ana Guirola-Ladd).
Also stars of the production were the fabulous costume designs from Abby Cleverly and Denise Schmidt-Debold, giving us a virtual fashion show of Roaring Twenties designs, including sensational fringed flapper dresses for the great Charleston dances, and fabulous evening gowns for chic party scenes at the elegant home of socialite, Muzzy Van Hossmere (Chrisina Sato). Scenic design was sometimes modest with a near-bare stage, excepting the painted backdrop of Manhattan’s skyline.
But on the other hand, Set Designer, Ms. Schmidt-Debold, and her team, have created a very fine, two-tiered Hotel Priscilla, complete with functioning elevator at center stage. Both Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Martin deliver solid vocals, as do Miss Mapes, Miss Sato, and of course, Miss Camp in the title role. Having said that, I would caution that there were some moments when vocalists seemed to come on too strong with lovely lyrics that could be enhanced by the singers simply relaxing a bit to let the song do the work without unnecessary antics.
Now for the promised bad news that could have been much worse. Toward the end of Act One there was a sudden flash of light with a frightening and thunderous crash from somewhere in the theater, and at that same moment a solid object fell from the balcony, landing directly on the head of Woodlands resident, Debbie Little, one of my guests, who was seated right beside me.
We soon discovered it was a sizable and solid screw knob that had failed in securing to an upstairs tripod, the enormous long spotlight that was at the edge of the balcony directly above the seats where I and my friends were sitting. By the grace of God we would soon learn that the crash we all heard was the collapse of that heavy spotlight which thankfully fell sideways against the balcony wall and not over the edge of the balcony where it could very well have killed one or more of us below. The show continued, along with a buzz of alarm that circulated among the audience. As Act One ended, two teen-aged youngsters who had been associated with the operation of that spotlight came downstairs in search of the missing screw knob that had struck Miss Little on the head. She was stunned and frightened, but thankfully not seriously injured. Front house manager, Phil Clarke, member of Stage Right’s Board of Directors, quickly came to assist us, and then went upstairs to stabilize that dangerous spotlight situation. Needless to say, we changed our seats for Act Two, and as I write these lines I have just received profuse apologies from Stage Right founder, Carolyn Wong, with the good news that the newly installed balcony spotlights have been repositioned for safety to the rear of the balcony. Perhaps Shakespeare said it best: ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL!
A member of both The Lambs Club Inc. and The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), the columns of DAVID DOW BENTLEY III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com . E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.