KAYSVILLE — The Hopebox Theatre cast its production of Thoroughly Modern Millie before March 2020, and has attempted numerous times to put the show on only to cancel because of the concern of safety of their cast and audience. When given the chance to perform at the Syracuse Arts Academy Outdoor Amphitheater, director Jake Anderson and both casts got to work.
Upon arrival at the show we were asked if we had been feeling ill with COVID-19 symptoms and were asked to wear our masks when buying concessions or going to our seats or the restroom. We were then guided to seats and socially distanced. My party and I had chosen to bring our lawn chairs to sit on the lawn, far from any others, so I felt very safe. I also noticed that the audience seating was distanced from each other and that there was plenty of space between patron parties.
Before the show I had been informed that the cast had done a great deal of rehearsing with video and zoom where possible and with masks to keep the cast as safe as possible; they also did health checks while at rehearsal. I have been informed that as of this writing the rest of the season for the Hopebox has been canceled due to concerns surrounding COVID-19.
Thoroughly Modern Millie, with music by Jeanine Tesori and lyrics by Dick Scanlan, is about a Kansas girl, Millie, played by Anna Peacock, who leaves her small town life in hopes of meeting and marrying her boss and becoming a modern girl. While doing so, Millie encounters new friends, new dreams, and new ideas.
The first thing to be said about this production is the choreography by Emily Landeen and Shasa Nugter. The show is full of tap dancing and fun, fast numbers, and these two choreographers have done a fine job. I enjoyed how the amphitheater gave the cast ample space to spread out and use the stage for dancing. The stage was also a great space for set designer Michael Thrall to create 1920s Manhattan. The wonderful costumes by Kelsey Porter were the crowning achievement of the design team, from the fantastic dresses to the intricate touches from scarves to ties to hats that era is known for.
Peacock was a nice Millie, endearing with her performance as someone who is a little star struck by the big city. Millie meets Jimmy Smith, played by Jonathan Harr, who quickly tries to tell her she is in over her head. The two actors as their characters have good chemistry, which grew throughout the show and was at its height during the second act. I thoroughly enjoyed Peacock’s performance of the song, “Forget About the Boy,” at the beginning of the second act, which was the strongest song of her performance.
April Beardall as Mrs. Meers was an interesting take on that performance. I actually enjoyed the interpretation on an otherwise slightly problematic character. I appreciated the choice to not have her dressed up as stereotypical Asian. Beardall has a strong voice and excellent comedic timing. Kaylee Wheeler as Miss Dorothy played the innocence of that character well, though I did wish for stronger vocals at times.
When Amber Kacherian came on as Muzzy Van Hossmere and sang, “Only in New York,” she had the power and precision that I had been hoping for all night. In an outdoor venue, it is wonderful to hear a voice that can echo off the buildings around the neighborhood, and Kacherian has that power. Her performance would have taken down the house if there were a house to take down.
The ensemble and the male leads of the cast were not quite as strong as the females, but the full production was a worthy endeavor, especially during this current lack of extensive productions. As an audience member, I felt plenty safe and comfortable regarding social distancing. I will admit that I wondered regarding the potential safety of the performers, because of the close proximity of the cast. However, I did speak to cast members and production team, and they all felt that they had been informed and treated well in regards to safety procedures. This production pulled off a COVID-19 performance with safety and with good production quality, and it is worth the experience.