Encore Michigan

‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ full of merriment at The Riverbank

Review July 06, 2018 Paula Bradley

MARINE CITY, Mich.–Bobbed hair, jazz and gin joints—the exciting and “modern” lifestyle of 1920s New York City is on display at The Riverbank Theatre in Marine City in the fantastically fun musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, directed by Lisa Copley. It’s a story of taking chances and unexpected love, filled with instantly likable characters and punctuated by vintage music, dance and costumes.

The merriment on stage begins right away as wide-eyed Millie Dillmount from Kansas (played by Caroline Conceison) arrives in New York City, leaving everything old fashioned behind and embracing a new, modern life. And even though she’s after a husband (which some may consider old fashioned), Millie wants a modern marriage: wealth required, love optional. In fact, she plans to marry her boss . . . just as soon as she gets a job.

Millie is quite adorable while trying to be modern, but her quest for a wealthy husband is complicated by the attentions of the dashing, yet decidedly un-wealthy, Jimmy Smith (Matt Copley); he urges her at first to get a ticket back to Kansas, but quickly becomes her frequent companion and affectionate admirer. Millie eventually falls for Jimmy, but can’t give up so easily on her goal of marrying her boss, Mr. Graydon (Aaron Dennis Smith). She gets sage advice from an unlikely ally, world famous performer Muzzy Van Hossmere (Christy Kreidler), and Millie is finally able to choose her path to modern happiness.

It is hard not to love the character Millie; she has pluck, confidence and drive. Conceison shines as she makes Millie adorable yet strong and capable. Her vocals are sweet and clear, sung with energy and precise diction. She shares great chemistry with Copley, and they are utterly believable as a fledgling couple. The two of them display wonderful facial expressions, especially in their dance on the window ledge (“I Turned the Corner”). Copley seems a natural as the easygoing, flirtatious Jimmy, who can hardly believe love has taken him by surprise. He gives perhaps the most impressive vocal performance in “What Do I Need With Love,” delivering both a dynamic emotional and vocal range.

Other standout musical numbers include “The Speed Test,” an amusing and clever song during which Millie impresses Mr. Graydon with her dictation skills; “Forget About the Boy,” which opens Act II and showcases the female ensemble voices; and “Gimme, Gimme,” an emotional song that takes Millie in a new direction in her life. The music and score are jazzy enough to transport the senses to the 1920s.

There are many humorous moments, mostly related to character attributes rather than being physical or slapstick. Hotel matron Mrs. Meers (Nancy Penvose), for example, barely impersonates a Chinese woman while conducting a secret criminal enterprise from her hotel. Mr. Graydon (Smith), while oblivious to Millie’s modern flirtation tactics, literally experiences love at first sight when he meets Millie’s old fashioned roommate, Miss Dorothy, delightfully played by Luciana Piazza.

Choreography (Brittany Everitt Smith) is high energy, strongly influenced by 1920s style and includes several well-executed tap numbers that showcase many in the ensemble. Costumes are wonderfully fun, both in their vintage style (more so for the ladies) and in their creative yet subtle color coordination throughout the show.

The set is not elaborate, but the set pieces are used and changed efficiently throughout the show. Lighting is well executed though not especially inspired. If there is any room for improvement in this production, it may be in the audio balance between the live backstage instrumental ensemble and the on-stage vocals. There were a few moments during which the music overpowered the vocals. Additionally, there seemed to be a few instances where the instruments were not quite together, although they captured the jazzy feel of the music, and overall their sound complemented the show.

With its contagious music, energetic dancing, a cohesive cast and characters that will capture your heart, Thoroughly Modern Millie can be enjoyed by the entire family. It is playing at The Riverbank Theatre through July 22, 2018.

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