Thoroughly Modern Millie: A Review

I came into Millie with a certain amount of prejudgment. I had been extremely pissed that it took the Best Musical Tony over Urinetown. I had read any number of lukewarm reviews of both the original Broadway production and the Denver mounting that I was about to catch. And, perhaps most damning, I had the cast album and I thought it was crappy. So I was prepared to dislike the thing.

Now, I've walked into musicals before not expecting much, then being won over by their charms. Annie Get Your Gun was one such--I came in extremely cranky and unwilling to be there, half because of some bad news I'd had earlier that day and half because I'm not a big Berlin fan. But the show was so charming and tuneful that I left extremely happy and impressed. Same with Guys and Dolls, whose cast album I simply don't care for. But it's a GREAT show.

So did I come out of Millie feeling better?

A little. The production wasn't quite as bad as I'd been led to believe. Well, not that I'd heard it was bad, just fluffy. And fluffy it was. The book was atrocious, on a par with the book for The Boy from Oz. There's no real plot, just a bunch of dance numbers and solos; my dad considered it a revue, and the thought had occurred to me too. The credo seemed to be, Character development? What's that? The sentiment of the show was antiquated: the career woman whose main goal is marriage is SO 1940s. (Yeah, yeah, Millie is set in the 20s, but since when does a musical have to be that faithful to its era?) The score was about as uninteresting as the cast album had presaged. The lyrics were painfully ordinary. The character of Mrs. Meers was extremely annoying; god, I hate fake Orientals; they're so racist. And the book tried too hard to be funny. According to my dad, there was too much burlesque and not enough wit. (There WERE flashes of wit that were quite welcome, but there were also a number of ham-handed jokes, stupid physical business, and so-called funny lines that fell flat. One big joke at the end was deflated by an unnecessary comment that immediately followed it. I won't tell you what it is as you may be planning to see the show, and it's the show's biggest joke.)

On the other hand: the choreography was quite good, FAR better than that for the non-Equity tour of Oklahoma! we'd seen a few weeks ago, or even that of The Producers. (Having seen several examples of Susan Strohman choreography now, I can't say that I'm impressed [nor is Dad]. Frankly, I come up with better routines in my head. Why does everyone worship her?) Some of the dances were truly ingenious. Our mutual favorite was the one with the tapdancing and the typewriters. And the main actors were very worthy. The lead, Darcie Roberts, reminded me of Carol Burnett in her looks and her facial expressions. Better, she had a powerful belt that put her head and shoulders above the chorus. She seemed like she could dance, and her credits also suggested a dancer, though the role didn't give her as much opportunity as I expected to strut her stuff. Is she a Triple Threat? I thought she might be. And Pamela Isaacs as Muzzy proved right from the get-go why she'd been a Tony nominee for The Life. Damn, her voice was thrilling! Again, too bad the character was so stupid; I'd have liked to have seen her really act. The part of Millie's rich boss was played by an understudy, and we were very impressed with his strong, deep baritone. I felt he had good comic timing. In general the company was very competent. And, of course, the costumes were luscious. The sets were just OK--they never stood out for me. They were probably scaled down for the tour.

At the end, my dad and I stood for the actors, NOT for the show. Oddly, only a few other people in the audience stood. This rather annoyed me, as Denver stands for most productions, including a truly awful non-equity tour of Oliver that did not deserve more than mild applause. The audience had seemed appreciative during the show; why didn't they stand? Hell, more people stood during a March 2001 preview of the poorly received Follies in jaded old New York than stood for this! Yet: On the way out, I heard someone complaining about "her" voice being unintelligible. I thought some of Ms. Isaacs's spoken lines were hard to understand, though some of that was because she was almost always facing away from where I was sitting, but I think these folks were referring to Ms. Roberts. I didn't have that problem at all; in fact, I found the singing in this show much easier to understand than in a number of shows I've seen in the past, notoriously Jelly's Last Jam (which I loved, but I couldn't make out half the lyrics). I dunno; maybe this audience was made up of jaded New Yorkers.

Overall, I'd give the production a B- . The book was worthless, and the score, while better than that of The Boy from Oz, was entirely forgettable. The leads were great, the choreography mostly worth watching, and the costumes striking. I'm glad I saw it, but now I'm even more pissed at the idiot Tony voters. But then, Tony voters usually pick "crowd-pleasing" over "edgy." Remember how The Music Man beat out West Side Story? (Though I'd hate to have to choose between them, to be honest.)

Review copyright 2004, D. Aviva Rothschild. All rights reserved

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