IVINS — Tuachan’s production of Thoroughly Modern Millie was nothing short of remarkable and easily ranks as one of the best musicals in the state this past year. Tuachan truly lived up to its name as “Broadway in the Desert” with this blockbuster hit.
Thoroughly Modern Millie is an award winning musical with music by Jeanine Tesori, lyrics by Dick Scanlan, and a book by Richard Morris and Scanlan. Based on the 1967 film of the same name, it tells the story of a small-town girl, Millie Dillmount, who comes to New York City to marry for money instead of love, which was the popular notion in the 1920’s as women were just entering the workforce. Millie soon begins to take delight in the flapper lifestyle, but problems arise when she checks into a hotel owned by the leader of a white slavery ring in China. The style of the musical is comic pastiche, meaning that it interpolates new tunes with some previously written songs all in the same musical style as if they were all created in the 1920’s.
From the opening number, the large and talented ensemble made up of more than 30 triple threats sang “Thoroughly Modern Millie“ with perfect harmonies and diction, superbly executed choreography, and a palpable energy that quickly sucked the audience in to New York City in 1922. Millie Dillmount (Laura E. Taylor) delivered a flawless performance throughout the evening as she created a multifaceted and believable portrayal of Millie, while at the same time having a performance and personality that could the entire arena. I couldn’t help but to fall in love with Taylor as she danced in “Not For the Life of Me,” or as she belted such ballads as “Jimmy” and “Forget About the Boy,” demonstrating her virtuoso vocal talents. Taylor was supported well by her countersuit, John Preator who played Jimmy Smith. Preator’s charismatic persona and charming good looks made him and Taylor the perfect pair. His gorgeous tenor voice and solid acting really shined in “What Do I Need with Love?” He and Taylor gave a stunning performance in the window ledge scene and duet “I Turned the Corner” where the couple fell in love and had excellent chemistry one with another.
Great comedic relief came from many of the talented supporting characters, such as Mrs. Meers (played by Joyce Nolen) as the washed-up-actress-turned-hotel-owner that ran a white slavery ring in China and preyed on orphan girls that checked into her hotel. Nolen was especially funny in her solo “They Don’t Know,” and she worked well along with the Chinese brothers Ching Ho (played by Daniel May) and Bun Foo (Eymard Cabling) who spoke and sang all their lyrics in Chinese with English subtexts on a nearby screen. This comedic villain trio energized each scene with their strong choices and detailed mannerisms they brought to their characters.
Mr. Trevor Graydon (played by Peter Saide) brought a hilarious energy as the boss of the factory and one of New York’s most eligible bachelors. Saide’s lanky physical size and quirky mannerisms made Trevor a memorable character. Saide gave an impressive performance in “The Speed Test.” Jennifer Evans, as Miss Dorothy Brown, had a beautifully trained operatic voice that soared, and she encompassed the charm and grace of the upper class persona with ease and believability. She and Saide delivered one of the funniest numbers of the show in “I’m Falling in Love with Someone,” complete with a full ballet number and a finale of fireworks which lit the sky of the Tuachan amphitheater.
I would be amiss to not mention Muzzy Van Hossmere (played by Nicole Powell) cast untraditionally as an African American actress in this role of the wealthy nightclub singer. Powell gave a memorable and sincere portrayal in each of her scenes with a sweetness and gorgeous voice in such torch songs as “Only in New York” and “Long as I’m Here with You.” I appreciated this casting choice, and Powell really took command of the stage in each of her scenes with a strong stage presence and powerful voice. And lastly, Miss Flannery (played by Eymard Cabling) also known as “Elbows” brought much humor to many of the scenes with Millie in the factory with her zany personality and strong attitude.
Much praise is due to Jeffry Denman who both directed and choreographed the show. Each dance number was well staged and captured the time period and style of the 1920’s perfectly. Show stopping numbers such as “The Nuttycracker Suite” and “The Speed Test” encompassed a variety of difficult dance styles including swing, jazz and tap. Denman showcased the talents of this cast, demonstrating impressive technique and personality in each number. His detailed directing made each scene move flawlessly into the next and created interesting and believable characters that filled the large space. I was especially impressed with how well he helped the ensemble contribute to the show and develop distinct characters in the various scenes they were in (though never pulling focus from the main action); this level of detail brought a professionalism that was nothing short of remarkable. He was supported by music director Melissa Yanchak, who brought out the rich harmonies with clear diction in each group number and helped each of the leads perform their solos with gusto and impeccable technique in a variety of vocal styles best suited to their character.