THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE (@ Reagle Music Theater through July 17th) is an old fashioned, “homage” musical celebrating the roaring ‘20s. Don’t look too deeply at the setting for MILLIE, which involves abducting “white girls” and transporting them to Hong Kong for the “slave trade,” or you’ll be sunk. I know, I know, this sounds completely horrific but human trafficking has nothing to do with this silly send-up – and the nefarious “Asians” involved in the crimes either aren’t Asian at all or they’re victims too. (I could expound on actual tabloid abduction claims from the ‘30s and ‘40s, whose intent clearly was to stir up anti-Asian sentiment, but that would be a research paper and not a review.)
Suffice it to say that Richard Morris’ kidnapping plot for MILLIE is only there to hang Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan’s delicious music on, winning six Tony awards when it debuted in 2002. Music director Dan Rodriguez gets sensational singing from the entire cast. Reagle is fortunate to have Broadway veteran Cynthia Thole stage directing the production, keeping it lighter than air and moving it along so fast that you don’t notice (or you don’t care if you do notice) that the set pieces are pretty spare… but Reagle impresario Bob Eagle has just purchased the Broadway costumes, so MILLIE looks, as they say, like a million bucks.
Susan M. Chebookjian’s choreography and a horde of crackerjack dancers make this MILLIE thunder across the stage. It’s a thrill to see forty-two dancing feet in perfect precision and a joy to watch Chebookjian’s hip, stylized nod to Busby Berkeley. The wacky plot has the new girl in town meet (well, actually trip up) a boy, then set her sights on another boy, only to realize the first boy is the real thing. Gabrielle Carrubba makes Millie plucky and vulnerable in a star turn that got me to the edge of my seat, waiting for her next showstopper. She delivers from the get-go with a rousing “Not for the Life of Me” and polishes off the musical with a stunning “Gimme, Gimme.”
Like Carrubba, Andrew Tighe as “the boy” who literally falls for Millie when she sticks out her foot, has Boston Conservatory roots and they sure know how to grow musical theater performers. He gives a solid turn as her love interest…as does Robyn Payne as the jazz singer who ties the plot together. Mark Linehan gets lots of laughs as Millie’s frenetic boss, as does Maryann Zschau, who reprises the role of the evil “laundry goddess” which won her accolades when Reagle first staged MILLIE.
Caitlyn Oenbrink lights up the stage as Millie’s roommate and the object of affection for both Linehan and Kai Chao (who, along with Eiji Miura are the dragon lady’s reluctant henchmen). Tesori and Scanlon’s hilarious, shameless “Chinese” songs are some of the show’s funniest moments. For Gilbert & Sullivan fans, there are three G&S references in this MILLIE, reason enough to go for us Savoyards!
If you need an escape from the mad and frightening world we live in, may I recommend Reagle’s thoroughly delightful THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE.