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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Like the original film and Broadway version, it is the lack of wit and cleverness as well as the incredibly distressing chunks of lame comedy that still keep this otherwise carefree musical from taking flight. It comes close at times in this bright and energetic production at the Paper Mill Playhouse (co-production with Maltz Jupiter Theater, Fla.)
Rather than attempting to ride on the coyly pastiche charms of The Boy Friend (the 1954 musical that introduced Julie Andrews to Broadway and who would subsequently star in the film Thoroughly Modern Millie), or a campy valentine to operetta as was Little Mary Sunshine, ...Millie had the determination to reflect the genuine character of a 1920s musical. For that we get our share of the Charleston and some cute characters, starting with the title character, as played with spirited pizzazz and the obligatory voh-do-dee-oh-do by Laurie Veldheer.
Millie's plans include marrying Trevor Graydon (Burke Moses), her stiff-necked all business, no-play, no-clue boss. Her plans are complicated by the attentions of Jimmy (Jeff Kready), a dapper young womanizer and by Millie's dippy chorus girlfriend and roommate Dorothy (Ashley Kate Adams), who is destined to to strike the right note(s) with Trevor.
But something is going on in that rooming house for single women where Millie is living. Some of them are disappearing without a trace. Mrs. Meers (Lenora Nemetz), a Chinese-y woman of questionable authenticity, manages the rooming house. She is actually an embittered ex-actress running a white slave ring. Nemetz's two-chopsticks-rated performance is best described as a shanghaied send up gone rancid.
Although Nemetz gets the gong, she is abetted amusingly in her abductions by Ching Ho (James Seol) and Bun Foo (Billy Bustamante) two young and personable Chinese men with a yen for singing their songs in Chinese with projected English subtitles...that's funny. Also embroiled in the madcap mix of music and mysterious doings is Muzzy Van Hossmere (terrifically talented Brenda Baxton), who, as a wealthy society matron, who comes close to transcending her mediocre material.
The problem with ...Millie, is that it is trying to be the real thing in the wrong way. Most musical comedies of the 20s and 30s' were driven by jokes, gags and bigger-than-life stars, not to mention scores by the likes of Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, Rogers and Hart, and Cole Porter. This musical seems driven by desperation. No one is expecting the resurrection of that golden era, but it seems a shame that director Mark S. Hoebee, who found the right pace and style in Act II, couldn't see the dead spots that punctuate so much of Act I.
Except for the obligatory Charleston and variations thereof, choreographer Denis Jones doesn't go much beyond the derivative. Lighting designer Kirk Bookoman makes sure we don't miss any corner of Michael Schweikardt' candied Art-Deco settings, or any spangle or tassel on (the late) Martin Pakledinaz' vivacious costumes. Forgive this rant (people all around me were complaining), but Sound Designer Randy Hansen needs to explain why it is necessary to make the two leading sopranos sound as if they were obliged to break through the sound barrier. Shrill and deafening is no way for the otherwise modish Millie to be modern.