Arts » Theater

Flapper Flapdoodle

Off-center performances take the kick out of Millie.


Have you ever been buttonholed at a party by a loud and loquacious fellow who fancies himself a comedian, belching stale jokes in your face while he elbows you in the ribs? If so, you probably can appreciate the essence of Thoroughly Modern Millie, the airheaded musical now at the Carousel Dinner Theatre.

Based on the not-so-classic movie of the same name, this production, directed and choreographed by Marc Robin, brings a whole new definition to the term broad acting. While there's nothing inherently wrong with jumping on every gag with the size-48 brogans of a circus clown, you need a cast that can sustain that manic level of overreaching and still make the evening palatable. And that's where the Carousel crew falls a bit short.

As for the story line, it's pure Broadway schmaltz: Millie, a rube from Kansas, shows up in the big city in the flapper decade of the 1920s, with her eye fixed on meeting and marrying a sugar daddy. She winds up at a rooming house owned by a suspiciously friendly Asian woman, Mrs. Meers, who, it turns out, shuttles the girls in the front door, finds out which ones have no family or friends, and then sells the grown-up orphans into Shanghai slavery as prostitutes.

While ducking Mrs. Meers, Millie gets a job at an insurance company and sets her talons for the pompous boss, Trevor Graydon. But he calls her "John" (she's a "Johnny-on-the-spot"), and he falls instead for Millie's pal, Dorothy Brown. That's just the beginning of the confusion in this froth that involves a supposedly penniless loser, Jimmy Smith, who is really rich, and Mrs. Meers' two sons, who have their own agendas.

The music and lyrics -- by Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan, respectively -- are ultimately forgettable (except for the familiar title ditty). And the book by Richard Morris and Scanlan is equally thin. It falls, then, to the director and actors to turn this hash into ambrosia. In the demanding role of Millie, Hollie Howard has a cheerful perkiness throughout, but she has few comic chops. Much better is Jim Sorensen, who invests the stuffy role of Graydon with booming self-regard and precise timing. Also good, if uneven, is Ellie Mooney as twittering Dorothy Brown.

But others in the cast seem lost in director Robin's over-the-top interpretation. Donna M. Ryan is wincingly forced as Mrs. Meers, her brutally unfunny Chinese accent adding stereotyping insult to injury. And Brian Ogilvie, as the Millie-smitten Jimmy Smith, doesn't create a character worth Millie's time, let alone ours.

It's all played on an unchanging Art Decoish backdrop set, designed by Robert A. Kovach, that looks like the back wall of a scenery storage room. A Manhattan skyline is mostly obscured by some translucent panels and, unaccountably, a marquee-lit pyramid with two floating shapes that look like ears that were lopped off Trix cereal's silly rabbit. But if you concentrate on Jim Sorensen and the few but engaging ensemble tap numbers, you'll digest your meal just fine.

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