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She's Gonna Make It After All / Sutton Foster breaks out in inspired 'Millie'

BROADWAY REVIEW

THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE. Book by Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan, with new

music by Jeanine Tesori, new lyrics by Scanlan. Directed by Michael Mayer.

Marquis Theatre, Broadway at 45th Street. Seen at Tuesday's preview.

'THOROUGHLY Modern Millie" is a thoroughly old-fashioned new musical comedy

inspired by a thoroughly bizarre 1967 flapper-white-slavery-caper movie that

helped turn Hollywood against musicals.

The show, which opened last night at the cavernous Marquis Theatre, is a

frisky, fresh-faced throwback that dares to enjoy the hokey conventions while

indulging a lovely little mad streak all its own.

Naturally, we would rather have seen the bright young creative team spend

its time inventing a smart new musical instead of lavishing such obvious

affection on someone else's flawed old fluffball. But there is real news. Long

after our theaters have been emptied and refilled with another bushel of eager

movie adaptations, "Millie" will be remembered as the one that brought

Broadway's favorite star- is-born cliches to life again. Sutton Foster, who

paid her dues in bit parts and road company replicas, was the understudy who

stepped into the title role a week before previews last winter at the La Jolla

Playhouse.

Just about everything we have heard since about her - and we've heard a lot

- is true.

She has a smile that may remind you of Mary Tyler Moore, the gawky comic

precision of the young Carol Burnett, the lyricism of a romantic heroine and a

smallish but vibrant voice as accurate as it is expressive. As Millie, another

of New York's prototypical small- town girls with big-city dreams, Foster

appears unfazed by the burden of a character created onscreen by Julie Andrews.

The newcomer takes the big stage with an uninhibited what-the- heck comfort

level and the discipline to go with her instincts. And, lest we think she can't

belt her heart out while shredding others, she seals the deal late in the

evening with "Gimme, Gimme," a hungry affirmation of uncynical poorhouse love.

Some dull stretches still cling to the book that Richard Morris and

lyricist Dick Scanlan untangled from Morris' hodgepodge of a screenplay, but

Michael Mayer's production - buoyed by Rob Ashford's unobtrusively inventive

choreography - seems to be having loopy fun with the foolishness. At its best,

the spirit is catching.

The basic plot is the same, but without such detours as the Chinatown opium

den and the sell-out ending. Millie still arrives from Kansas to marry a rich

boss - that is, to be a New Woman who picks reason over emotion. The all-woman

Hotel Priscilla is a home for struggling actresses, which means show-biz jokes.

The dragon-lady-evil Mrs. Meers - the sublimely demented Harriet Harris - has

been given an acceptable excuse for her pidgin Chinese accent and her

trafficking in young women with no families. Not incidentally, the movie's

boggling use of coolies as stupid pet tricks has been modernized with warmth,

wit and supertitles for the amusing Ken Leung and Francis Jue.

Angela Christian brings an operetta soubrette wink and vocal range to the

Mary Tyler Moore role of Millie's wealthy new starlet friend. Marc Kudisch

knows just how to go for the big hambone profile as the stuffy, glamour-puss

boss and Gavin Creel is agile, if a bit generic, as Millie's pauper suitor.

Despite having to sound sultry in the most bland torch songs, Sheryl Lee Ralph,

of "Dreamgirls" fame, carves out her own identity far from the zany Carol

Channing role of the adventurous heiress.

Sammy Cahn's original title song remains, along with one or two others.

The rest of the score is unapologetically pastiche - an insane "

"Nutcracker" for the speakeasy, clever new words for a modern-major-general

"Pirates of Penzance" patter tune to match speed steno with speed singing in

the office where secretaries tap as they type.

Jeanine Tesori, that most promising of new-musical composers, does not have

much chance to show her own voice here. But her music fits the jazz-age style,

David Gallo's sets find a few new ways to love the Manhattan skyline, and

Martin Pakledinaz' costumes avoid the usual flapper cartoons.

I wish the attitude felt a bit less like a "Welcome Back to New York" ad

campaign, but, clearly, any show that rhymes "adorable" with "Sodom and

Gomorrah-ble" knows the territory.

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