CHATHAM — “She ran the gamut of emotions—from A to B.”
I mention Dorothy Parker’s critique of a Katharine Hepburn stage performance because Parker appears, briefly, in “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” Though the show won the Tony for Best Musical in 2002, its emotions run a similar gamut.
Except, however, in two numbers, both delivered by the extraordinary young actress Bridget Elise Yingling. I will get to the show’s many other pleasures shortly, but I want to acknowledge the way Yingling kickstarts the evening with Millie’s “Not for the Life of Me” and completely stops the proceedings with her second act anthem “Gimme Gimme,” as revelatory as, say, “Maybe This Time” is in “Cabaret.”
With a commanding voice and intelligent phrasing, Yingling inhabits all of the emotional places from A-Z in these two songs.
‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’
WHERE: Mac-Haydn Theatre, 1925 Rte. 203, Chatham
WHEN: Wednesday-Sunday, through Sept. 6
HOW MUCH: $34-$31, adults; $14, under 12
MORE INFO: 392-9292
And the gifted Yingling does the comedy and tap with equal aplomb, as does the rest of the large cast that whips through this paper-thin Jazz Age tale of a young Kansas teen—and all the other hopefuls from equally far-flung states—who want to light up Broadway with their hoofing and boop boop ba doo...
So what’s standing in their way, besides fierce competition and big city heartlessness?
White slave trader Mrs. Meers (Monica Wemitt), that’s who, a third-rate former thespian whose best acting job is as a Chinese proprietor of an all-female hotel for aspiring chorus girls. With comic timing, spot-on mugging, and musical savvy, Wemitt steals every scene she’s in as cleverly as Meers abducts her tenants and ships them overseas. And she’s ably abetted by Marc de la Concha and Jake Vielbig.
Another source of “tension” is, of course, men. The modern Millie wants to make it in the world, so she sets her sights on guys with dough, like her wealthy boss, Mr. Graydon (Gabe Belyeu). Unfortunately, her heart tells her she might do better with poor Jimmy Smith (Conor Fallon), and for a few scenes she is in a quandary.
We never actually get into an emotional quandary, however. We just bide our time in the audience, enjoying the vocal work of Belyeu (a delicious patter song and a gorgeous duet with Grace Kidd on “I’m Falling in Love with Someone”), Fallon (“What Do I need with Love?”), and Yvette Clark, who delivers a couple of knockout, stand-alone numbers.
Kudos, too, to the Carol Burnett-ish Sarah Mae Banning. And the hard-working ensemble (including such familiar faces as Phil Sloves and Emily Franklin) keeps things moving brightly through 17 scenes.
These young performers have been superbly trained by musical director Josh D. Smith ( a tip of the hat to trumpet player Tim Wendt), choreographer Colin Pritchard, and director Todd Underwood; and Jimm Halliday’s costumes are a colorful exclamation point to the whole she-bang.
Interestingly, the 2002 Tony voters gave their individual book and music awards to “Urinetown” even though this show — by Richard Morris, Dick Scanlan, and Jeanine Tesori — won best musical. I think “entertaining” trumped “thought-provoking” that year, but sometimes “entertaining” is just fine.