Category Archives: Thoroughly Modern Mille

Thoroughly Modern Millie; Gateway (Review)

Running different productions of the same musical within a relatively short period of time inevitably invites comparisons, for better or for worse.  Having seen the TUTS production of Millie half a dozen times this past summer, I’m familiar with both the strengths and the weaknesses of the book and score.  I had such high hopes for Gateway Theatre’s production of Thoroughly Modern Millie. On paper it shows so much promise, but ultimately falls short.

The cast of Gateway's Thoroughly Modern Millie.

There is a lot to like about this production.  Choreographer Kennith Overbey has charged the dance numbers with an intense energy that truly carries the show.  The freneticism of the love-wearied office pool as they tap out their frustrations in “Forget About the Boy,” was almost enough to make me forget some of the other flaws in this show.

Overbey makes excellent use of the incredibly strong male and female choruses.  Among the standouts are Georgia Swinton, Damon Jang, Dimitrios Stephanoy, Meagan Ekelund and Doran Satanove.  There is more than a hint of sex appeal in the alcohol-infused “The Nutty Cracker Suite,” which in less capable hands could have easily been boring and hackneyed.  That same rawness is also welcomely present in the male chorus in “Long as I’m Here with You.”

The ten-piece orchestra is at the top of its game and brings the jazzy score to life, with what seems like minimal effort.  Musical theatre companies around town should take note: cutting back on the size of pit orchestras and live accompaniment can exact a heavy toll on your show.  That richness of sound can’t be replicated by other means.

Lauren Bowler (The Producers, Arts Club) is a strong actress and singer, but doesn’t come off as terribly likeable in the title role of Millie Dillmount.  Her characterisation played like it was from a more serious show, not the one she was in.

Diana Kaarina (Thoroughly Modern Millie, TUTS) was reliably consistent in the role of Miss Dorothy, a role she honed in the US national tour of Thoroughly Modern Millie.  I found myself wishing that Kaarina had been cast as Millie here, a role she completely owned at TUTS this summer.

Denis Simpson plays wealthy socialite and songstress Muzzy Van Hossmere in what appears to be incredibly bad whiteface.  I was hoping for something special in Simpson’s two musical performances “Only in New York” and “Long as I’m Here with You,” and I was still waiting when the final curtain fell.  The fault doesn’t lie with Simpson, but with the uninspired staging consisting of simply facing the audience head-on with limited movement and singing, à la high school.

I’ve seen Simpson dance and sing enough times to know that this wasn’t a case of a director staging around a performer’s weak spots.  Whatever the reasoning behind this creative decision, the poor direction in these numbers pulled down the show’s energy.

The same barebones approach to staging also hurt the comedic number “They Don’t Know.” As the villainous Mrs. Meers, Irene Karas’ accent careered perilously close to the edge and her dragon lady was missing some needed bluster.

Mat Baker’s vocals and dancing were well-suited to the role of Jimmy Smith, but was otherwise bland and not particularly charismatic.  On the other hand, Gaelan Beatty was perfectly charming as the somewhat pompous Trevor Graydon.

Jen Darbellay’s costumes are colourful and eye-catching, though a bit more variety would have been welcome.  The scale of Drew Facey’s set properly conveys the height of the New York cityscape without dwarfing the actors.

All of the technical elements are there, but the show lacks heart.  It should be full of humour and fun, but the quick pace of this staging seems to gloss over many of the best lines and scenes.  That being said, the energetic choreography, top-notch orchestra, and strong chorus alone make Thoroughly Modern Millie worth the price of admission.

Gateway Theatre presents Thoroughly Modern Millie until January 3, 2010 at the Gateway Theatre, 6500 Gilbert Road, Richmond.  Tickets are available online or by phone at 604-270-1812.

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Thoroughly Modern Millie; Gateway (Upcoming show)

Thoroughly Modern Millie opens at the Gateway Theatre in Richmond this Friday.  Millie was already one of TUTS’ offerings this past summer, so it will be familiar territory for some.

Mat Baker and Lauren Bowler in Gateway Theatre's production of Thoroughly Modern Millie.

Having really enjoyed seeing Millie at the Malkin Bowl, I’m eager to see how this production will compare.  Starring Lauren Bowler, Mat Baker (Evil Dead, DSR), Diana Kaarina (Thoroughly Modern Millie, TUTS), Irene Karas, Minh Ly, Raugi Yu, Gaelan Beatty, and Denis Simpson.

Directed by Simon Johnston and assistant director Natasha Nadir, musical direction by Allen Stiles, choreography by Ken Overbey, set design by Drew Facey, costume design by Jen Darbellay, lighting by Ereca Hassell, sound design by Chris Hind, stage managed by Angela Beaulieu and assistant stage manager Jamie Tait.

Gateway Theatre presents Thoroughly Modern Millie from December 10, 2009 – January 3, 2010 at the Gateway Theatre, 6500 Gilbert Road, Richmond.  Tickets are available online or by phone at 604-270-1812.

Saying goodbye to summer

Over the last month, there’s been so much theatre to see and so little time.  And now it all seems to be ending.  The cheeky SHINE: A Burlesque Musical finished its two-week run at the Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island last weekend and we also bade adieu to the toe-tapping Thoroughly Modern Millie and Annie at Theatre Under the Stars.

At the Arts Club, the Altar Boyz are spritzing their hair with product for the last time and at Pacific Theatre, the good folks from Not Another Musical Co-op are singing the last notes of Songs For A New World this weekend.     Across the water, at the Presentation House Theatre in North Vancouver, comes the final curtain call for the newest object of my affection, Fighting Chance’s Rent.

Fighting Chance Production's cast of Rent; Clockwise from top left, Craig Decarlo, Christine Quintana, Jacqueline Breakwell, Anton Lipovetsky, Nick Fontaine and Cesar Erba.

Fighting Chance Production's cast of Rent; Clockwise from top left, Craig Decarlo, Christine Quintana, Jacqueline Breakwell, Anton Lipovetsky, Nick Fontaine and Cesar Erba.

I have a rather shameful admission to make . . .  I’ve never been a giant Rent fan.  Nor a Rent fan of any other size, for that matter.  It stems from a certain stubbornness that I possess when it comes to being told what to do or what to like.  In fact, I have an aversion to jumping on to bandwagons of all kinds.  It’s that contrary quality that made me disregard the film version and pooh-pooh the various Rent soundtracks.

But now, I’ve drunk the Kool-aid and have been totally taken in by Rent.  I’ve seen it three times and would have seen it again, if it hadn’t kept selling out.

Which brings us back to the end of the summer season and the sudden onset of my musical-theatre withdrawal blues.  My current state of despair is somewhat tempered by the knowledge that the fall musical season will soon be upon us.  Though, truth be told, I’m not overly enthused by this.  I’ve seen all of these latest summer shows twice and sometimes more and they’ve become familiar, like friends.  And it’s so hard to say goodbye.

Interview with Sarah Rodgers (Thoroughly Modern Millie)

The air is sweltering in Vancouver this week, and I have plans to see Thoroughly Modern Millie again tonight at TUTS in Stanley Park.   I’m hoping against rational belief that this evening’s temperatures will cool to something more bearable.

If you haven’t already been to TUTS yet, go see both shows.  It’s a great pairing this season; the ever-popular and solid Annie (read my review) and the thoroughly fabulous Thoroughly Modern Millie (read my review).

Sarah Rodgers has spent the past few years directing musicals, but it’s been a while since she’s acted and sung in one.  This summer Rodgers is returning to her roots as she hams it up playing the villainous Mrs. Meers in Thoroughly Modern Millie at Theatre Under the Stars.  Rodgers gave us a few of her thoughts regarding her role.

Rodgers on musicals:

“I’ve been directing a lot of musicals in this city and having a ball with it and just loving it.  I’ve done the last three seasons at Gateway Theatre. I directed Emily, My Fair Lady and last year, Guys and Dolls.

But before that I have been a professional actor for over 15 years and I did perform in musicals years ago. But it’s been a while and I am just thrilled to be back on the stage, singing, (laughs) kicking up my heels.”

Danny Kim, Sarah Rodgers and Aaron Lau in TUTS production of <i>Thoroughly Modern Millie</i>.  Photo by Tim Matheson.

Danny Kim, Sarah Rodgers and Aaron Lau in TUTS' production of Thoroughly Modern Millie. Photo by Tim Matheson.

Rodgers on preparing for the role:

“I have to learn a Chinese accent, and in all honesty, I have to learn a very over-the-top, stereotypical, and for lack of a better word, a bad Chinese accent.  Because I play a character who thinks she’s a wonderful actor.  There’s a lovely footnote in the script that says ‘it is not important that Mrs Meers’ Chinese accent be good, but it is important that she thinks it is good (laughs).’

I worked with a student of mine [at UBC] who was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Canada.  He sat down with me and I taped him and he helped me greatly with the accent.  I also had to do a lot of work.   . . . a lot of coaching and work on singing, just because I haven’t sung, myself, in many years.  So of course, I’ve been working privately on that.  Just prepping and preparing vocally.”

Rodgers on the 1967 film version of Thoroughly Modern Millie:

“I am a huge fan and I was probably not born when the movie came out.   But, they were showing it in reruns. My mother and I would watch it on the television every year.  I’m a huge fan of Mary Tyler Moore and Julie Andrews. So, I know the film inside out, love it, love it, love it!  [In the play] the character Mrs Meers is very different, which is fun for me.  I’m reinventing it and making it completely new because she doesn’t play her as an Asian woman in the film at all.  They’ve totally changed it, they’ve made it even campier and it is a crazy, crazy depiction.

But of course it’s supposed to be a real send-up on the woman and I end up going to jail, I think, for my bad accent (laughs).  Mrs. Meers ends up going to jail and the Asian sidekick gets the beautiful girl, so it all works out well in the end.”

Rodgers on playing the villain:

“I’m loving it and I would say that it’s a new venture for me as an actor.  I’m not used to playing the villains, or the old broad.  I wake up one morning and suddenly I’m playing the old broad in the show.  When did that happen?  I’ve been playing ingénues all my life (laughs), I’m used to playing the Mary Tyler Moore role. It’s a great comic role, wonderful, wonderful comic role. It’s a great character part and it’s fun being the bad guy. Who knew?”

Rodgers on Beatrice Lillie:

“From the film itself, I am a huge fan of Beatrice Lillie and a lot of people of this generation don’t know [her]. But Bea Lillie was a famous vaudevillian actress and she was also, a lot of people called her the first female comedian.  I am so honoured to be playing a Beatrice Lillie role. I’m beside myself.

There’s one thing that she does in the film which is absolutely ridiculous.  She barks at the boys. She barks at them and she says ‘shu sho, shu sho.’ Of course the first thing I wanted to know was what does ‘shu sho’ mean, because that’s the one bit of Chinese that she uses in the film. She says it quite a lot and in a way that you think she’s saying hurry up, hurry up, get going, ‘shu sho.’ And it means absolutely nothing, I found out.  , Well I put it into the show.  I do it twice in the show and that’s a treat really for the diehards.”

Tickets are still available through Tickets Tonight. Thoroughly Modern Millie plays every other night at the Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park at 8 pm until August 22nd.

Thoroughly Modern Millie; Theatre Under the Stars (Review)

Thoroughly Modern Millie is Theatre Under the Stars’ second offering this summer, and what a show!  Adapted from the 1967 musical film of the same name which starred Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore and Carol Channing, the 2002 stage version won the Tony Award for Best Musical.

The book is by Richard Morris (the original 1967 screenwriter) and Dick Scanlan.  The stage musical borrows some of its score from the movie as well as from Tchaikovsky, Al Jolson, Victor Herbert, and Gilbert & Sullivan’s Ruddigore.  The new music is by Jeanine Tesori (Caroline, or Change, Shrek the Musical) and new lyrics are by Dick Scanlan.

Set in New York City in 1922, it’s the story of a small-town Kansas girl Millie Dilmount who’s afraid to end up “old and grey at 29.” She comes to the big city to seek her fortune in the modern way; she wants to marry her future boss. Millie is enthusiastically played by local actor Diana Kaarina, who not that long ago returned from Broadway (Rent, Les Misérables) and touring productions in the US (Thoroughly Modern Millie).

Diana Kaarina as Millie in TUTS' production of Thoroughly Modern Millie.  Photo by Tim Matheson

Diana Kaarina as Millie in TUTS' production of Thoroughly Modern Millie. Photo by Tim Matheson

Kaarina is definitely a triple threat and she owns the role, singing, tapping, and acting her heart out.  The opening number “Not For The Life of Me/Thoroughly Modern Millie” crackles with energy and choreographer Shelley Stewart Hunt’s choreography really spotlights the talented cast.

I’ve been enamoured with Meghan Anderssen since she stole the show last year as Annie Oakley at TUTS.  This summer she plays the aspiring actress Miss Dorothy Brown and once again she tries to steal the show at every turn.  And if not for the incredibly strong cast of leads, she undoubtedly would have succeeded.

Anderssen’s comic timing is perfection in everything that she does.  Her introductory duet with Kaarina, “How the Other Half Lives,” has some great moments between the pair.  To her credit, Anderssen has chemistry with all of the actors she is paired with over the evening.

Seth Drabinsky, who wowed local audiences a few years back in Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Pickled Productions), makes his TUTS debut as Millie’s tightly-wound boss Trevor Graydon.  Drabinsky displays his operatic training in a masterful quick-tongued homage to the Gilbert & Sullivan patter song with “The Speed Test.”  He and Anderssen deftly show off their joint romantic and comedic chops in “Ah Sweet Mystery of Life” and “Falling in Love.”

Composer Tesori’s new score falters a bit with her songs for Millie’s love interest Jimmy Smith.  “What Do I Need With Love” and “I Turned The Corner” are largely forgettable as performed by the woefully miscast Danny Balkwill.  Balkwill lacks the easy charm and onstage charisma necessary to win over the audience.

Sarah Rodgers returns to the musical stage after a prolonged absence and gleefully relishes in the character part of Mrs. Meers.  As the failed-actress turned white-slave trader, she does a bang-up job of self-promoting herself as a star in “They Don’t Know.”

Mrs Meers spends the entire show hiding in yellow-face and sporting an atrociously terrible accent, masquerading as the Chinese matron of the Priscilla Hotel. The original 1967 film cast Asians in the roles of the villainous henchmen in a less-than-subtle display of racist stereotyping.  When the musical was adapted for the stage in 2002, the henchmen were changed into Mrs. Meers’ unwilling accomplices.

The characters Ching Ho and Bun Foo, played by Aaron Lau and DaeYoung Danny Kim, are the only ones who have a clue about what’s actually going at the Priscilla Hotel.  But they’re unable to warn anyone since they only speak (and sing) in Chinese.  Through the clever use of subtitled laundry, the audience is able to understand the dialogue.  Lau and Kim do a great version of Jolson’s “Mammy” redone in Chinese as “Muquin.”

Nancy Herb certainly has the right sultry nightclub sound for socialite Muzzy Van Hossmere, and vocally I have no complaints about her.  But I wanted so much more from her that just wasn’t anywhere to be found.  I’ve always seen Muzzy as sassy, campy and a bit of a diva.  The role has previously been played by Carol Channing, Sheryl Lee Ralph and Leslie Uggams, all of whom made the role their own, essentially by playing themselves.  Even though she has two starring numbers in the show, “Only in New York” and “Long As I’m Here With You,” Herb faded into the background.  I’d love to see her bring some attitude and life into the character.

Chris Sinosich’s costumes are modern and jazzy and I loved her take on Muzzy Van Hossmere’s over-the-top nightclub get-ups.

Kaarina opens the second act strongly with the powerhouse “Forget About The Boy” and the resulting extravaganza of romantically frustrated tap-dancing office workers is pure satisfaction.

Music Director Christopher King’s orchestra is near-perfect and the music is definitely what makes the show shine in the wide open spaces of the Malkin Bowl. The bright resounding tones of the brass especially give the beautiful score its vintage happy-go-lucky feel.

Shel Piercy’s directions are always top-notch and this is no exception.  Thoroughly Modern Millie’s cast is thoroughly bursting with talent and it’s a sensational must-see for the summer.  I already can’t wait to see it again.  Tickets are still available through Tickets Tonight. Thoroughly Modern Millie plays every other night at the Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park at 8 pm until August 22nd.

Brief Update

My apologies for not staying on the ball with daily postings.  I do have a bunch of stuff to finish and post for you this week.  By tomorrow I should have reviews for both TUTS shows, Annie and Thoroughly Modern Millie, written and posted.  I also have an interview with Millie cast member Sarah Rodgers to put the final touches on.

As well, I interviewed the star of Piaf: Love Conquers All which plays next week  at the Firehall Arts Centre.   I’ll have more details on all of these shows in the respective reviews and postings as they’re put up.

Theatre Under the Stars: Summer of ’09

July is already upon us, which means that it’s only a little over a week before Theatre Under the Stars begins previews of its 2009 season.

TUTS has made some shrewd choices this year with a duo of family-friendly shows; classic crowd-pleaser Annie and the relatively new but very popular Thoroughly Modern Millie.  I’ll be posting further about both shows in the days leading up to the opening nights.

TUTS has been a summer Vancouver tradition at the Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park since the 1940s with only a few interruptions.  Most recently TUTS took a hiatus in 2006 after running into financial difficulties.  It was widely speculated that the two lesser-known shows staged in 2005, Big: the musical and Can-Can, failed to draw in ticket-buying audiences.

For the last two years, TUTS has safely steered towards popular and time-tested fare; Grease and Oklahoma in 2007, and Jesus Christ Superstar and Annie Get Your Gun in 2008.

Michelle Creber and Max in the TUTS production Annie. Photo by Tim Matheson.

Michelle Creber and Max in the TUTS production Annie. Photo by Tim Matheson.

Michelle Creber plays the redheaded optimistic orphan Annie alongside a slew of Vancouver stage veterans. David Adams stars as Oliver Warbucks, Colleen Winton (2008 Ovation award winner for Musical of Musicals the Musical, Fighting Chances), as Miss Hannigan, and Todd Talbot (It’s A Wonderful Life, Arts Club) as Rooster Hannigan.  Former Vancouver Playhouse artistic director Glynis Leyshon directs.

Thoroughly Modern Millie stars Broadway actress Diana Kaarina (Rent, Les Misérables) as the titular character who, in the modern tradition, moves to the big city with plans to marry not for love but for money.  The role should be somewhat old hat for Kaarina, as she previously played the role in the touring company of Millie.  Directed by Shel Piercy, the cast also includes Meghan Anderssen (Annie Get Your Gun, TUTS), Danny Balkwill (We Will Rock You, Mirvish), and Sarah Rodgers.

Previews July 10-13.  Shows play alternating nights with Annie opening July 14th through August 21st and Thoroughly Modern Millie opening July 15th through August 22nd.  Tickets available online or by calling 604-684-2787.