Thoroughly Mundane

The bland leads the bland in Thoroughly Modern Millie.

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Thoroughly Modern Millie Palace Theatre, Playhouse Square Center, 1519 Euclid Avenue Through November 16, 216-241-6000
Ah, there she is again: that spunky 1920s-era flapper gal with a suitcase in one hand and a dream of Broadway stardom in her heart. She can sing! She can tap! But will she ever get a chance to show her stuff? If this sounds familiar, it was done with pizzazz in the classic musical 42nd Street, featuring the timeless tunes of Harry Warren and Al Dubin. Not content to leave well enough alone, some folks got together and decided to turn the 1967 film Thoroughly Modern Millie into a musical comedy that proceeds along that same well-hoofed plotline. Millie unaccountably won the Tony for Best Musical in 2002, which goes a long way toward explaining how Christopher Cross once won six Grammys for his mushy melodies. The show's numbers -- music by Jeanine Tesori and lyrics by Dick Scanlan -- are so forgettable that simply listening to this score may trigger an Alzheimer's panic attack in some people. (By the way, this duo didn't write the lilting title song; a couple of up-and-comers named Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn did.)

As for the book, penned by Richard Morris and the indefatigable Scanlan, it follows plucky midwesterner Millie, who works as an office typist while trying to carve out a career on the Great White Way. What the script lacks in originality and wit, it makes up for in buffoonish racial caricatures: A supposedly Asian-led white slavery ring is scooping up nubile chorines from their Big Apple hotel and shipping them off to other countries as concubines. This could be played for some raucous, politically incorrect laughs by the right actor. But Hollis Resnick, as the supposedly diabolical hotel manager, intentionally butchers her Chinese accent without making it either funny or fearsome. She comes across more as a foreign visitor with a severe speech impediment than a classic female villain in the Cruella De Vil mold. So much for one promising storyline.

An even bigger gap in this production is the emptiness at the center, created by Darcie Roberts as Millie and Matt Cavenaugh as boyfriend Jimmy. Roberts sings and dances with professional aplomb, but she never puts a unique comic stamp on her character. For his part, Cavenaugh is slick and crisp, but lacks the human nooks and crannies that could help the audience care about him. As a result, their scenes together are as spot-free as a scoured Formica countertop and just as interesting. Fortunately, the second leads have the kind of spark that's missing elsewhere. Sean Allan Krill leaps and vibrates with managerial (not to mention manly) passion as Millie's office boss, while Diana Kaarina is Shirley Templeish cute as Millie's well-heeled roommate.

This grab-bag show also includes a black torch singer, who appears in the guise of a society matron for little reason other than to justify a couple more songs; an unfunny Dorothy Parker; and a secretarial supervisor whose hair is funnier than she is. In other words, rent the movie.

About The Author

Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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