OREM — The Hale Center Theater Orem has produced an energetic and lively show in Thoroughly Modern Millie directed by Lisa Hall. The stunning costumes, vivacious choreography, engaging vocals, and comedic timing combine to create an enjoyable evening that I would love to repeat.
Thoroughly Modern Millie follows Millie Dillmount in 1920s New York City in her efforts to be a real “modern.” Fresh from Kansas, she scorns curls, long skirts, and marrying for love. Characters that aren’t what they seem abound in this musical comedy that is almost madcap at times. Mrs. Meers is not a harmless hotel owner but is actually selling her orphan residents into slavery. Millie’s best friend and love interest are not part of the working class but the mega-wealthy Van Hossmeeres. First produced in America as a movie musical starring Julie Andrews in 1967, this version with book by Richard Henry Morris and Dick Scanlan, new music by Jeanine Tesori, and new lyrics by Scanlan is peppy and playful. HCTO’s production is strong in all elements and as a result, delivers a visually stunning show true to the original.
The list of strengths in this production is long. At the top of the list are the choreography and costumes. Ashley Gardner Carlson’s choreography matched the intense energy of the score, made the most of the HCTO stage, and enhanced the characters. The group numbers were stunning. “The Nutty Cracker Suite” told a whole story through dance just like the Golden Age movie musicals. The smaller numbers had just as much going on in them, like in “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life/I’m Falling in Love with Someone.” Throughout the show, the choreography conveyed the emotion, humor, and irony of each scene. The dancers excelled in their execution, especially the female chorus members. They made the most of little movements, delivering a sharp and satisfying performance. The ensemble dancing in, “The Speed Test,” and, “Forget About the Boy,” was especially spirited and entertaining.
The costuming designed by Peter Terry put the “roar” in the Roaring Twenties. I ached to take pictures of nearly every dress, but especially of Millie’s red party dress. Every one of Mrs. Meers and Muzzy’s dresses and accessories were so detailed and elegant. Each on-the-town dress for Millie and the chorus captured the daring and innocence of the characters. The costuming helped enormously to make each girl into a full, unique character and at the same time fitting together harmoniously. The stenographer girls’ costumes coordinated and complimented each other while Millie’s costume stood out just enough from the chorus. And it wasn’t just the girls costumes excelled. Jimmy’s suits, socks, and glasses proved that “clothes make the man.” Over and over again the costumes were so stunning that they could have stolen the show except that they were integrated so well into the scenes and characters.
HCTO excelled at other technical elements as well. The art deco arch backdrop and the intricate art deco design on the floor is a credit to set designer Cole McClure. While HCTO’s intimate stage with moving floor pieces always adds an element of surprise, McClure utilized it well, such as when having the floor drop to reveal a secret elevator to the speakeasy. Cody Swenson’s lighting design created a magical transition to the stunning and energetic number, “The Nutty Cracker Suite.” This number was one of the highlights of the whole show because of the lighting, the choreography, and the dancer’s energy in executing it.
With a few exceptions, the vocals were excellent. I enjoyed listening to them as much as the Original Broadway recording, such as when Millie played by Scout Smith sings, “Forget about the Boy,” and Nick Crapo as Jimmy Smith sings, “What Do I Need With Love?” In the case of Marcie Jacobsen’s rendition of. “Only In New York,” I enjoyed it more than any other recording I have heard. Jacobsen’s lush and powerful notes were dreamy.
Several songs required a lot of stamina to deliver the full performance. In the number, “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life/I’m Falling in Love with Someone,” the vocals and choreography was very physically demanding for the characters of Trevor Graydon played by Jacob Theo Squire and Miss Dorothy Brown played by Sophia Guerrero Jensen. Both Squire and Jensen delivered a dynamic and delightful number, hitting their notes and lifts with apparent ease. In “The Speed Test,” Squire, Smith, and the ensemble demonstrated skilled vocal gymnastics and tight acting to put together an animated number. Both Smith’s and Squire’s speed and articulation while singing was impressive and just plain fun.
However, there is still room for improvement in the vocals. Some of the issues were technical. Several mics went out or were unbalanced. Often the accompaniment overpowered the vocals, and a few songs could have had stronger vocals. “Not for the Life of Me (reprise)” is sung by the immigrant siblings Ching Ho and Bun Foo. It is a tricky song since Korean words are forced into an English song’s rhythm. Seung Choi’s and Yunnie Kim’s vocals weren’t as strong as the rest of the cast, but the two still delivered a pleasant performance. Smith’s voice seemed to tire towards the end of the show. In the number, “Gimme Gimme,” the song started out sure and sweet, but as the tempo picked up, Smith’s voice didn’t keep up. It didn’t phase her acting, dancing, or enthusiasm however. She gave an energetic performance to the end.
Overall, Smith’s Mille Dillmount was strong and fresh. Smith has the stage presence of a confident comedienne. There were many funny moments, especially between her character and Nick Crapo’s Jimmy. Smith as Millie’s chemistry with Miss Flannery played by Tannah O’Banion was locked in. Smith’s timing was always perfect, making the most of every humorous opportunity. She kept the energy of the show high. Her performance in the number, “Jimmy,” was charming, relatable, and laugh-out-loud funny. Smith’s vocals had power and depth, and and her acting was steady even when her mic went out.
Jensen’s performance of Miss Dorothy Brown was exceptional. From Jensen’s first moments, words, and notes on stage, she captured the innocent arrogance and the sweet but quirky humor of Miss Dorothy. Jensen’s high vocals were light and clear. She carried herself from head to toe as a debutante, and her giggle tickled my funny bone every time.
So many actors portrayed their characters in fresh and fun ways. Squire’s Graydon, O’Banion’s Miss Flannery, Krista Galke’s Ruth, and the other residents of Hotel Priscilla brought a lot of warmth and depth to the show.
The show could be improved by adding more depth to the character of Mrs. Meers played by DeLayne Dayton. Dayton had strong vocals and stage presence, and she looked completely at home in every costume. However, her portrayal of Mrs. Meers seemed static. A more conniving and pandering Mrs. Meers, one that is convincingly sweet in front of the girls at the hotel, would have dramatically set up Meers’ song, “They Don’t Know.” Additionally, the chemistry between Jimmy and Millie could be stronger throughout. There was a great moment during. “The Nutty Cracker Suite,” but then the chemistry waned until the build up to the kiss. Some of the soloists could have better utilized the stage and looked out of place, especially compared to the highly packed ensemble numbers.
Thoroughly Modern Millie is a delight for the eyes and ears. Be warned your cheeks might hurt from smiling when you leave the theatre. I enthusiastically recommend this show to all audiences, all ages, and even those that say they don’t love musicals. This one might change their mind.