Reston Community Players is currently showing the amusing and energetic Thoroughly Modern Millie, with original book by Richard Morris and Dick Scanlon, new music by Jeanine Tesori, and new lyrics also by Dick Scanlon. The musical is based on the original 1967 movie of the same name, and is reminiscent of the old classic Marilyn Monroe film, How to Marry A Millionaire, with a few more twists and a seedy subplot to add a dash of danger.
It’s the story of a girl, looking to redefine herself and shape her future, who instead stumbles into a love she wasn’t looking for. Add to that a sinister character, who kidnaps orphaned girls to sell into white slavery in China, and that’s the summary of the story. The two themes seem like a strange mix, but the show is thoroughly aware of its silliness, which makes the absurdity light-hearted and fun. The show is very tongue-in-cheek with its comedy and commentary of the 1920s Jazz Era, and the music celebrates the rhythm and style of the time.
The title character, Millie Dillmount, is played by Evie Korovesis. Millie is originally from Kansas and has moved to New York City to land herself a rich husband. Upon arrival, she kicks her small-town vibe and quickly adapts the flapper lifestyle. Korovesis is a fantastic Millie, giving her resilience and determination, with a hint of naiveté. Millie sings the determined “Not for the Life of Me” and tears up her return ticket home, vowing to find her way.
Ironically, Millie is immediately robbed and then berated by the handsome paper clip salesman, Jimmy Smith (Rinaldo Martinez), who tells Millie that she is one of many girls with false hope and should save herself the trouble and go home. But Millie is unfazed and sticks to her plan, taking a room at the Hotel Priscilla for Single Women.
Mrs. Meers, played by Kate Keifer (who was covering for Lisa Anne Bailey), is the proprietor of the hotel and is soon revealed to be part of a crime ring. Mrs. Meers uses her hotel as a cover and a means to find pretty orphan girls, and then sends them to Hong Kong for a fee. Ching Ho (Don Michael Mendoza) and Bun Foo (Jarrett Goldfedder), are her two reluctant henchmen working for Mrs. Meers, who promises to help reunite them with their beloved mother who is still back home.
Right on cue, Miss Dorothy, a rich orphan, arrives at the hotel. She and Millie become fast friends, and Miss Dorothy, played by Holly Kelly, explains that she wants to experience poverty and sings about wanting to understand “How the Other Half Lives.” Kelly plays Miss Dorothy as a textbook ingenue, full of innocence and completely unaware of the danger she is in, with Mrs. Meers scheming to make Miss Dorothy her next victim.
Millie soon lands a job as a stenographer in the hilarious and insanely fast-paced “The Speed Test,” a crucial step in her plan to marry a rich man–her new boss, Mr. Graydon (Scott Napier). With everything seemingly going according to plan, Millie and her girlfriends from the Hotel Priscilla decide to go out on the town and find a speakeasy. Millie once again runs into Jimmy, who get the girls into a club and sparks begin to fly.
Korovesis and Martinez are an adorable pair, playing the standard theme of friends meant to be lovers. Martinez is charming and unexpectedly endearing, having been initially introduced as a bit of a sour-puss at the top of the show. He sings “What Do I Need with Love,” where he reluctantly acknowledges he has feelings for Millie. And Millie echoes the unexpected sentiment in “Jimmy.”
As with any romantic comedy, the characters have misunderstandings, cases of mistaken identity, heartbreak, and surprising revelations. The villain must be caught; lovers must make amends; and big ensemble dance numbers must occur.
“The Nutty Cracker Suite” in Act 1 satisfies that latter requirement. The booze flows in the speakeasy and the characters have a raucous good time that inevitably ends with the police busting in.
Director Duane Monahan, who was also the show’s choreographer, embraces the predictability of the plot, with its stock characters and emphasizes their generic-ness, which only adds to the comedy.
The costumes, by Charlotte Marson, were well-suited to the time-period, though I do wish that Millie’s costumes had stood out more. Upon first meeting Millie, head typist Miss Flannery (Amy Cropper) criticizes Millie’s “modern” look but the styles of the women’s dresses are identical.
The production had a live orchestra in the pit, and Sam Weich served as Music Director. The set, designed by Maggie Modig, was very open with pieces that rolled on. Most notable were a bunch of mobile typists’ desks that the performers moved around the stage in different formations during “The Speed Test,” which takes place in an office.
The lighting design by Jeff Auerbach and Kimberly Crago left several dark spaces during the show, with moments when a character had to find their light. I can’t be sure if it was deliberate design choice or an execution error, but the darkness was notable and seemed like a mistake, albeit very correctable.
Overall though, Reston Community Players’ production of Thoroughly Modern Millie was a great production. The ensemble is strong and each of the leads seems perfectly suited for their part.
Kelly and Korovesis dominate the show with their presence and timing, but I cannot neglect to mention Robin Lynn Reaves, who plays the performer Muzzy Van Hossmere. She is a Broad by all definitions but still manages to exhibit a humility and kindness that one would not expect from a superstar. The vocals in the show were all superb, but the rich sound of Reaves singing about her love of the city in “Only in New York” is a highlight of the show.
Thoroughly Modern Millie is full of laughs and lively music, with a feel-good story that all ages can enjoy. The musical falls into the category of escapism theater, meant to be a respectful, joking nostalgia for the Roaring Twenties, and not an earnest reflection of reality. The cast and creative team have created a wonderful show, and the production is sure to be a complete success.
RCP’s Thoroughly Modern Millie is (forgive the quip) thoroughly entertaining and definitely worth more than the price of admission!
Running Time: Approximately one hour and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Thoroughly Modern Millie plays through May 12, 2018, at Reston Community Center’s CenterStage: Hunters Woods Village Center, 2310 Colts Neck Road, in Reston, VA. To purchase tickets, call the box office at (703) 476-4500, or go online.