Sometimes Broadway gets light and frivolous entertainment right. Hereís an example. No deep human insights. No important social commentary. No big name star power. Just a lot of fun. Bright, colorful, jazzy, funny and attractive fun. Thoroughly Modern Millie is thoroughly satisfying entertainment although perhaps not the most satisfying of its type now being offered. 42nd Street does the same thing but does it a bit better.
Storyline: Retaining the basic story of the famous movie, the Broadway musical tells of a young woman who comes to New York at the height of the flapper era determined to follow Vogue's advice to the modern woman - marry money. In the process, she stumbles into a "white slavery" racket that kidnaps unattached young women who come to New York to break into show business and ships them off to China to become street walkers. Naturally, she breaks up the criminal activity while finding true love.
Sutton Foster is a delightful Millie, belting out her big numbers, tapping away with aplomb and tackling physical comedy. (At one point she falls under her desk in a movement that some think is an accident - it's not, it's rehearsed.) Gavin Creel makes a nice Broadway debut as Millie's true love interest while Marc Kudisch is fabulous as the supposedly wealthier man she is trying to land. At times he is screamingly funny, especially in the "I'm Falling in Love with Someone" scene that uses actual operetta music by Victor Herbert rather than create a pastiche of the operetta genre. Harriet Harris uses all the tricks of old time vaudeville ethnic comedy as the faux-Chinese villain and Sheryl Lee Ralph returns to Broadway for the first time since her Tony-Nominated performance in 1981's Dreamgirls. Those who don't remember Dreamgirls may wonder why her first number in this show seems structured for a star and not for a supporting character, but she builds the part steadily until her second act spot works very well indeed.
While the score very properly and effectively lifts material from the original movie and adds some nice new material, it isn't a new score and recognition as an original score is misplaced. There are just ten new songs. Some of the showís best musical moments come from music composed by James Van Heusen (the title song), Jay Thompson ("Jimmy"), Peter Ilíych Tchaikovsky ("The Nuttycracker Suite"), Sir Arthur Sullivan ("The Speed Test") and Victor Herbert ("Iím Falling in Love with Someone"). Thereís even some Offenbach in the overture. The songs that were written by Tesori and Scanlan for the show are nice and one is even a standout "Forget About the Boy." That one would be a shoo-in for a Tony Award Nomination in the category "Best Song" if there was such a category but there isn't.
The book that Scanlan cobbled together with screenplay writer Richard Morris has its problems, but the book isn't the real reason for doing this show and, when it really counts, the book delivers. The performance of the two men, Kudisch and Creel help set Sutton Foster at the heart of the show. The brightly colored art deco sets and flashy costumes signal a faith in the value of foolishness. Only on Broadway would breaking into a soft shoe on a sky scrapperís ledge seem not only sensible but inevitable. Choreographer Rob Ashford has come up with some smooth transitions for that lovely scene and nifty moves for Marc Kudisch and Angela Christian in Victor Herbert's "I'm Falling in Love with Someone." His big tap numbers work quite well. He sets secretaries tap-dancing while sitting at wheeled typing desks in what will probably be the image most retain from the show. Pity it seems so like a Susan Stroman moment (remember the tap-dancing little old ladies with walkers in The Producers?)
Music by Jeanine Tesori and others. Book & Lyrics by Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan and others. Directed by Michael Mayer. Choreography by Rob Ashford. Orchestrations by Doug Besterman and Ralph Burns. Dance arrangements by David Chase. Music direction by Michael Rafter. Design: David Gallo (set) Martin Pakledinaz (costumes) Donald Holder (lights) Jon Weston (sound). Cast: Sutton Foster, Gavin Creel, Marc Kudisch, Harriet Harris, Angela Christian, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Anne L. Nathan, Ken Leung, Francis Jue.
Music by Jeanine Tesori and others
Book & Lyrics by Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan and others
Running time 2 hours 40 minutes
Price range $55 - $95
The Marquis Theatre
Potomac Stages Broadway
Thoroughly Modern Millie