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 V.19 No.30 | July 29 - August 4, 2010 

Performance Review

Fighting Fire With ... Millie

Two months after tragedy, MTS retakes the stage

Musical Theatre Southwest returns to the stage with triumph and a song.
Musical Theatre Southwest returns to the stage with triumph and a song.

As devastating as it was to lose a half-century’s worth of costumes, props and archives in a warehouse inferno, there was never any doubt at Musical Theatre Southwest that, yes, the show would go on.

“The second the fire happened, we called a board meeting and decided within minutes that we were going forward,” says MTS Board President William R. Stafford. “We needed to get the crowds back to see that we’re back.”

Rising from the ashes meant extensive fundraising and outside-the-box planning to complete work on Thoroughly Modern Millie (the second of three productions in the 2010 season) for its three-week run. As fate would have it, Millie—adapted from a 1967 movie musical starring Julie Andrews—was an auspicious choice.

“It’s a good comeback for us because it’s an upbeat dance show,” Stafford says. “It’s about hope and renewal.”

According to director Terry S. Davis, Millie’s cast and crew rose to the challenge.

“The fire galvanized everybody into saying, OK, this will be a better show, a more special show, than perhaps even what we’d already committed to in our own minds,” says Davis. “This company has not only survived the fire but come back with an incredible energy and a fierce determination to make more great theater.”

And so they have: Thoroughly Modern Millie is a footloose and fancy-free romp that musical-theater-loving Burqueños (and their kindred souls throughout the state) will thoroughly enjoy.

And so they have: Thoroughly Modern Millie is a footloose and fancy-free romp that musical-theater-loving Burqueños (and their kindred souls throughout the state) will thoroughly enjoy.

Catchy original songs mixed with classic American standards? Check.

Elaborately choreographed dance numbers? Check.

A storyline threading romance and intrigue? Check.

Memorable characters you can root for ... and against? Check.

Vibrant Gatsby-era garb, props and set pieces? What warehouse fire?

The show opens with a madcap music-and-movement sequence in which zoot suiters and suffrage marchers offer a slice of life in New York City in the Roaring ’20s. Enter Millie Dillmount, suitcases in hand, a starry-eyed Kansan who soon finds that the inhospitable Big Apple is no place like home.

“You ain’t got nothing,” laughs a suave scamp, Jimmy Smith, the first city slicker to make Millie’s acquaintance.

“I ain’t got nothing, so I ain’t got nothing to lose,” our heroine pluckily responds.

It may be the beginning of a beautiful relationship, but it’s also the encounter that lands Millie at Hotel Priscilla, where, Jimmy innocently tells her that new girls in town are often taken in.

Unbeknownst to both, Hotel Priscilla’s penniless, orphaned clientele is merely taken. Kidnapped, that is, and sold into sexual slavery—back when sex trafficking was referred to as “white slavery” by yellow press journalists.

Hotel manager Mrs. Meers—who, along with her henchmen Bun Foo and Ching Ho, drugs damsels and spirits them away in laundry carts—isn’t so much interested in regular ol’ Millie but in Millie’s glamorous friend from California, Miss Dorothy Brown.

Meanwhile, Millie gets a job taking shorthand and typing letters as a “stenog” at Sincere Trust Insurance Company. She dreams of marrying her wealthy boss, grows reluctantly fonder of Jimmy, comes to know an influential socialite by the name of Muzzy Van Hossmere (at whose party Millie spills a drink on famed wit Dorothy Parker) and eventually catches on to Mrs. Meers’ diabolical scheme.

Through it all, MTS veteran Devon Frieder is an absolute delight and the very picture of poise in the title role. Reliable scene-stealing comes from April Shute (as Millie’s crotchety supervisor), Stephanie Larragoite (as the deliciously evil Mrs. Meers) and Erin Warden (as self-assured Muzzy). Warden also boasts the company’s finest singing voice, with Erik Clack (Millie’s boss, Trevor Graydon) and Caitlin Wees (Miss Dorothy) following close behind.

If, unlike this PC-sensitive reviewer, you’re able look past the gratuitous Asian stereotypes and “l”-words pronounced with w (“Hotel Prisciwa,” “all awone”), then the trio of Larragoite, Doug Montoya (Bun Foo) and Aaron Howe (Ching Ho) may have you howling with laughter. They’re so good, they just about won me over.

Individual performances aside, however, the show’s nine-member female ensemble and seven-member male ensemble deserve a special shout-out, especially for their ecstatic swing and tap sequences choreographed by Luke A. Loffelmacher.

By the time the curtain falls, Thoroughly Modern Millie begs an important question: Why pay well upwards of $50 to see nationally touring Broadway musicals at the cavernous Popejoy when a mere $20 to the nonprofit MTS promises stellar local talent, an intimate setting and an unrivaled burning passion for the performance?

Thoroughly Modern Millie
Runs through Aug. 1
Friday and Saturday, July 30 and 31
8 p.m.
Sunday, Aug. 1
2 p.m.
African American Performing Arts Center
310 San Pedro NE

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