The cast of Eight O’Clock Theatre’s “Thoroughly Modern Millie” performs on stage at Largo Cultural Center. The show runs through March 16.
LARGO – With art deco set design, infectious energy and flapper panache, Eight O’Clock Theatre’s new production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” summons up an era of splashy, old-fashioned musicals.
“Thoroughly Modern Millie” runs through March 16 at Largo Cultural Center, 105 Central Park Drive, Largo. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m. Matinees are Sundays, 2 p.m. Tickets are $25.50. Call 587-6793 or visit largoarts.com.
Though the show’s main character Millie may consider herself modern for her era, “Thoroughly Modern Millie” is grounded by nostalgia and tradition. Developed in 2000 and based on the 1967 film of the same name, “Thoroughly Modern Millie” is a lively musical comedy by Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan, with music by Jeanine Tesori and lyrics by Scanlan. The show opened on Broadway in 2002 and went on to win six Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
Set in 1920s New York City, the story follows Millie Dillmount, fresh off the train from Kansas. Not 10 minutes after her arrival, Millie gets mugged – losing her scarf, hat, shoe and her purse. Seeking help, she chances upon Jimmy Smith, who tells her to go back to Kansas. Millie insists upon staying, so Jimmy recommends the Hotel Priscilla, a rooming house for actresses.
Millie ends up finding work as a stenographer; however, her primary motive is to get the head of the company to marry her. Love and other subplots, such as one involving a dragon-lady villainess, interfere with Millie’s plans to marry strictly for money.
Once again, Eight O’Clock Theatre hooks its audience right out of the gate, delivering a brisk and bouncy opening number showcasing the ensemble’s textbook harmonies and dazzling choreography. That entertaining episode is only outshined in the first act by “The Speed Test,” another engaging number that highlights the talent brought together to stage this musical.
Amy Dobbert portrays Millie. She brings to the role more than a flawless voice: She endears Millie to the audience, painting her as stubborn but lovable. Dobbert was recently seen in the West Coast Players production of “The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!).” Before that, she appeared in Eight O’Clock Theatre’s production of “Forbidden Broadway,” for which she won a STAR Award for Favorite Actress in a Musical.
Nick Abounader plays Jimmy Smith. To Millie, Jimmy is a bit of a mystery: brash and insulting one moment, charming the next. Abounader successfully conveys Smith’s rough edges in such a way that the audience never doubts his integrity.
Rachel Crissman gives a solid performance as Miss Dorothy, Millie’s newfound friend. Crissman makes her debut at EOT with this role, and it’s a safe bet that she’ll be appearing in future productions.
As Muzzy van Hossmere, Amber Phillips delivers some superlative numbers, including “Only in New York” and ”Long As I’m Here with You.”
For comedy relief, the show has the dastardly Mrs. Meers and her two disinclined lackeys, Ching Ho and Bun Foo. Meers, played by Ronnie Farley, is an accomplice in a white slavery ring, notorious for abducting orphans and shipping them off to China. Farley is at her best when she sings “They Don’t Know.” Joe Southall and Michael Shurtz play the Chinese brothers Ching Ho and Bun Foo, respectively. The two deliver their lines in Chinese while subtitles are displayed on a screen above the stage. Their sheer dedication to the roles is praiseworthy. Together, these three cast members instill the show with a delightful degree of campiness.
“Thoroughly Modern Millie” features many more standout performances, including Karen Johnston as Miss Flannery and Stephen Fee as Trevor Graydon. What makes the show enjoyable is the chemistry evident amongst the entire ensemble. Director Linda Woodruff Weir and co-director/stage manager James Grenelle elicit a kind of cohesion from the cast that helps what is essentially a comic pastiche transcend its frivolousness.
It’s easy to fault “Thoroughly Modern Millie” for being derivative. It takes a special cast and crew to make the show a success. EOT’s production thrives thanks to an excellent cast, imaginative direction, glittery costumes and stunning sets, and outstanding musical direction. Embrace the show’s silliness and enjoy its intoxicating energy.