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
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,
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.