Sunday, June 22, 2014

Thoroughly Modern Millie, Mercury Summer Stock

If the Broadway musical is a uniquely American art form, then summer stock is a distilled version of that genre. Marked by large casts composed of enthusiastic and mostly young performers, summer stock should be a high-energy, refreshing treat.

Mercury Summer Stock has this particular theatrical subcategory nailed, as they have for some years now. And their current production of Thoroughly Modern Millie is an unabashed treat from start to finish. Featuring some fine voices and a couple spot-on comedic turns, this show is a cure for what ails ya. Or, if nothing ails ya at all.

Based on the Julie Andrews movie, with music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by Dick Scanlan, it’s all about Kansas rube Millie who moves to the Big Apple to seek a redo as a modern gal of the 1920s. To wit, she has her cloche hat set on finding a rich boss she can wed. But in her first moments on the street, she literally runs into Jimmy Smith, an apparently poor and snarky New Yorker, and immediately hates him. So you know where that’s going to end up.

In the title role, Caitlin Messer sings well and has plenty of innocence and verve as Millie, even though she could add some intensity to both her acting and singing. And Jason Goldston certainly has the pipes for Jimmy, but doesn’t quite have the full-on, street-smart edge that would give snap to his feisty relationship with Millie.

Some of the real pleasures in musicals such as this occur in smaller roles, and that's where this production really shines. As the office tyrant Trevor Graydon, Brian Marshall is a hoot, trilling the Gilbert & Sullivan-inspired “Speed Test” with ever-increasing rapidity. Then later, he is gob-smacked by Millie’s lovely friend Dorothy, and his duet (“Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life/Falling in Love with Someone”) with Amy Jackson as Dorothy is as pleasing to the ear as it is amusing.

Another standout performance is Hester Lewellen as the hotel manager Mrs. Meers—a former actress who is now working for a white slavery ring, feeding them nubile young women without families who come to her flophouse for cheap digs. Gleefully butchering her Chinese accent, Lewellen has the precise comic timing of a seasoned pro.

She is well supported by Jeremy Feola and David Petrovic as the Chinese brothers who reluctantly help Mrs. Meers kidnap her guests, aided by surtitles (look up) that translate their faux Chinese. Dan DiCello as a campy Miss Flannery and Kelvete Beacham as the jazz age doyenne Muzzy van Hossmere also add some smiles.

It is well staged by MSS director Pierre-Jacques Brault with snappy pacing and clever, small set pieces. The costumes by Colleen Bloom are a period delight, as is the choreography by Jens Lee.

Indeed, the entire large ensemble performs the song and dance numbers with high spirits, even when technical skills fail them a bit. But hey, this is summer stock. And you won’t find a better example of it than here at Notre Dame College.

Thoroughly Modern Millie
Through June 28, produced by Mercury Summer Stock at Notre Dame College, 1857 S. Green Road, South Euclid, 216-771-5862.

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