I saw the opening night performance of El Dorado Musical Theatre’s Thoroughly Modern Millie, and as is every show from EDMT, it was thoroughly entertaining. Everything about this show evoked the 1920s. The dialog is dictated by the script, of course. But everything else seemed consistent with that era: the costumes, the scenery – even the dance moves. And what dancing it was! There were many tap numbers, each full of creativity, impressive synchrony, and invigorating energy. But there were many more dance routines – some just as background for action taking place downstage – and the complexity of these routines, each dramatically different, was mind-boggling to me.
Now about the costumes. I’ve seen costumer Christine Martorana’s work before and been impressed by it, but the wardrobe part of this show was over the top. It felt like each actor must have had 8 or 10 costume changes (the young women, at least), and everything seemed an accurate representation of the period. The impression these outfits created on stage was just dazzling.
Julia Adams had the title role, and for me, she was the perfect Millie Dillmount: spunky and with a pleasing Broadway voice. And as I watched her, it seemed that there was almost a magnetic attractiveness to her acting. As perfect as Julia seemed for her part, Zach Collins (Jimmy Smith) seemed the ideal leading man: good looks, excellent voice, and a fine actor. Moreover, he has excellent comic instincts, and there were several times he made me laugh out loud. Maybe the biggest surprise of the program was Anjie Rose Wilson. I’ve seen her perform in these productions and those of the High Voltage troupe, and I’ve recognized her as a brilliant dancer – often a real show-stopper. But in the role of the pseudo-Chinese boarding house keeper, Mrs. Meers, she had practically no dancing at all. It was all acting, and her portrayal of that comic part was just stunning: no holds barred, pushing the limits, and spotlight-seizing. And she slid into and out of a Chinese accent with ease. To me, it was a break-out role for her.
Early in the show, I found myself asking, “Is this over-acting?” Then it struck me that Thoroughly Modern Millie is designed as broad comedy bordering on farce. With that thought, I relaxed and enjoyed watching these young people push their characters to the limits of believability. Later in the show, I found myself appreciating how thoughtfully each character was crafted by the actor. But of course, director Debbie Wilson deserves a lot of that credit. She has compiled such an amazing body of work over the years with EDMT. There should be a lifetime Tony award for working with young dancers and actors, and she should get it. No, it should be named after her.
One challenge in mounting this show is having two characters, Mrs. Meers’ henchmen, speak only in Chinese. Zach Wilson and Dylan Gray brought this off beautifully (with the help of translations projected above the stage). And when they sang Al Jolson’s “Mammy” (“Muguin” in the program), it practically brought the house down.
Come to think of it, it seemed like each of the major characters had a big number that wowed the audience. But none was bigger that Olivia Kaufman’s “Only in New York” in the role of Muzzy Van Hossmere. I was impressed with the quality and strength of Olivia’s voice and with her ability to put across a song when I first heard her as a 15-year-old three years ago. Now with more experience, confidence and maturity, she is just sensational. No question: this was a “big time” performance for her. In Olivia’s development as a performer, and in so much of outstanding singing in these EDMT shows, one can see the hand of vocal director, Jennifer Wittmayer. Jennifer’s skill in developing natural talent and coaching these young people toward professional standards is a major element of EDMT’s success.
There were so many outstanding performers in this show. Andrew Wilson (as Trevor Graydon) and Kelly Maur (as Miss Dorothy Brown) were two more members of this company that were a delight to watch – and hear. Andrew, especially, provided some inspired comic acting, and Kelly was the perfect foil to Millie. Their comic dance number, “I’m Falling in Love with Someone” was one of the many highlights of the show. Indeed, this show was full of highlights, one after another. Throughout the evening there was great comedy and romance, and the personality and energy of the performers spilled over the stage into the audience. And when the bows began, who could keep to their seat?
My advice: don’t miss this show. These young people are on the move, building careers as performers, and someday you’ll pay a lot of money to see them perform.