‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ Review
Alexandra Lowery | Thursday, February 11, 2016
The 2002 Tony-winning musical “Thoroughly Modern Millie” gained commercial success and popular praise throughout its 903-show run by giving Broadway audiences what they had been yearning for years: the glitz of the 1920s, show-stopping show tunes and tap. The Pasquerilla East Musical Company (PEMCo) tackles the Broadway giant this weekend in Washington Hall, proving that even problematic musicals can win over an audience.
Set during the flapper-drenched era of the prohibition, “Millie” is the tale of a young, small-town woman moving on her own to the big city, her sights set on marrying her rich boss and “thoroughly modern”-izing her life — bob haircut and all. As one would expect in any romantic musical comedy, miscommunication ensues, love endures and a white slavery ring is shut down in the process.
The production itself, while suffering from minor awkward scene transitions and rough stage-to-audience communication at times, is able to captivate with its spunk and vibrancy. Senior Rose Urankar, who plays the title role of Millie Dillmount, is charming and likable as the confident “new woman” and performs pleasant renditions of Millie’s famous show-stopping numbers such as “Gimme Gimme.”
The memorable vocal performances of the night, however, belong to Matt Marsland as Trevor Graydon III, whose beautiful tenor really shines in songs like “The Speed Test” and “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life/Falling in Love with Someone,” a duet that similarly highlights the lovely soprano voice of Miss Dorothy, played by Elizabeth Charles. Marisa Thompson, who plays famous widowed singer Muzzy Van Hossmere, is believable in her role with a bluesy voice that nicely fills out tunes like “Only in New York” that are strictly there for us to enjoy and in no way drive the plot.
The show’s leading man, senior Joel Ostdiek, hits his best note during his only solo, “What Do I Need With Love,” an incredibly charismatic and wonderfully executed anti-love song that will probably be an audience favorite. Another crowd pleaser, the creepy Mrs. Meers, owner of the Hotel Priscilla — which is really just a front for a booming white slave trade operation— is played by Jon Olansen, who is, yes, a male. While sometimes difficult to understand due to the fake Chinese accent the script requires of Meers throughout a big portion of the show and somewhat confusing scenes involving weirdly placed closed captions that are difficult to read, Olansen will get appreciation for his commitment to the role and comedic prowess.
The show offers its best moments (or as Millie calls them, “mo’s”) during group numbers like “Forget About The Boy,” where tap dancing is the real star and the cast’s energy and love for this production really shines through.
Quirky, dance-y and all-in-all enjoyable, the show is not without controversy. “Millie” has been criticized for its lack of sensitivity towards racial stereotypes and sexism, each a prominent aspect of life during the 1920s. However, aware that the musical utilizes the “submissive Asian male” and “dragon lady” tropes one often finds in discriminatory art and literature, PEMCo’s letter to the editor in The Observer addresses the ways in which the creative team attempted to overcome these indisputable issues within the production’s script and score. By emphasizing Mrs. Meers’s role as the definitive villain of the show, racism and all, fleshing out her/his loyal servants as more than one-dimensional characters and offering a free panel after last night’s show to discuss the show’s ability to satirize xenophobia, sexism and discrimination, PEMCo is taking necessary steps towards a more politically correct arts environment here on campus.
“Thoroughly Modern Millie” runs Feb. 11 through Feb. 13 in Washington Hall.