Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
Every once in a while a show comes along that we hope we can extoll to lengths that will do it justice. Such a show opened Thursday as Fenton Village Players launched their amazing production of the musical 20s romp, Thoroughly Modern Millie.
Director Mary Collins has taken advantage of summer break with a slew of collegiate musical theatre majors and degreed graduates in leading roles, most of them in their very first role at FVP. The overall effect is beyond impressive.
To begin with, Millie Dillmount, a Kansas farm girl, arrives fresh off the bus in New York and is bowled over by the place. Sophia Rizzo’s strong voice and terrific characterization commanded the stage immediately with her “Not for the Life of Me”. Rizzo was still center stage as the strength of the entire cast exploded forth with “Thoroughly Modern Millie”, an energetic and well-choreographed audience favorite.
The story moves from the street to a young women’s hotel run by a supposed Asian lady named Mrs. Meers (Willow Collins). There is subterfuge afoot here but the gals seem oblivious as she lures them to a fate unknown. In her first FVP performance, Willow does a great job moving through dialects and attitudes.
Meanwhile back on the husband trail, Millie was met that first day by Jimmy Smith (Gage Webster) when a pickpocket took her purse, her hat and her shoe(?). Webster does an impeccable job with “What Do I Need with Love”, impressing the house with his vocal strength.
Back at the “hotel”, Miss Dorothy is a newcomer seeking a place to stay. Madison Merlanti sports a head of blond corkscrew curls and purports to be an orphan. Maybe so, but her vocal range is epic, and her duet with Rizzo on “How the Other Half Lives” is adorable.
When Millie applies for a job at Sincere Insurance, the whole office scene is worth the price of admission. From the toe tapping that stands for typing to the amazing stenography test delivered by boss Trevor Graydon (Aleksander Papanastasopoulos), this is a clever, funny and wildly well-done number.
Since Millie is still on a husband hunt, Jimmy takes her to a reception given by the famous Muzzy Von Hossmere (Rolecia Looney). Looney’s “Only in New York” showcases her strong, slightly husky but powerful vocal talent. She will be the salvation of many, and it will be comical.
With all of this talent, we almost forgot the two “Chinese” helpers working with Mrs. Meers to try to earn their mother’s passage to New York from China. Ching Ho (Brandon Kastell) and Bun Foo (Dante Justice) are a hoot most of the time! We cannot vouch for the accuracy of their Chinese, but we loved the captioning projected center stage during both their songs and dialogue.
If we were looking for weaknesses in this production, we missed them. Every aspect added strength to this highly entertaining production. First, we were thrilled to hear live musicians directed by Frank Pitts. The vocals were strong and well timed and the body-mikes worked to perfection allowing every lyric to be clear even with the live music.
Choreography was intricate (we loved all the tap!) and performed with precision. Costumes were glorious staying true to the 1920s flapper era with gals in fringe and also tailored work jumpers. Wigs providing vintage hairstyles from bobbed to curls were terrific also.
The set design folks deserve a medal for the beautiful rendition of New York as well as the perfect small adjustments that took us from place to place. Set changes moved with professional speed and ease.
Overall, Fenton Village Players is to be commended for the highly professional presentation that is this Thoroughly Modern Millie. It is one of the most talent-filled and balanced shows we’ve seen in a long while. We urge you to head out to Fenton – you won’t regret it!
Thoroughly Modern Millie continues at Fenton Village Playhouse, 14197 Torrey Road, Fenton, MI, on July 14, 15, 21, 22, 28, & 29 at 7:00 pm and July 16, 23 & 30 at 2:00 pm. For tickets and more information contact the box office at 810-750-7700 or online at www.FentonTheatre.org