Tag Archives: Julie Andrews

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.

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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.