Ah, if only to have a truly modern Millie! Drury Lane has taken a innocent, full of life heroine, first embodied by Julie Andrews on film then Sutton Foster on stage, and turned her into an a character who always seems to be in on the action before it happens.
Thoroughly Modern Millie, winner of six Tony Awards, including Best Musical (2002) is set in 1922 and centers around Millie Dillmount, a young woman from Kansas freshly arrived in New York City and looking to become "thoroughly modern" like the women in Vogue magazine. Thus she raises her skirts, bobs her hair, and vows to marry for the pragmatic reason of money rather than the quaintly romantic notion of love. But that resolve will soon be tested by a young man with the undistinguished name of Jimmy Smith who lives life by the seat of his pants and loves every minute of it.
For those of you who were lucky enough to see Sutton Foster in the original Broadway production or Darcie Roberts in the National Tour, be prepared for an entirely different show. Director William Osetek gives us a more hardened Millie than seen in the past productions by casting Holly Ann Butler. Yes, she can sing and dance among the best of them, but she never gives us the innocence and temperance needed for an audience to totally embrace and believe the character.
There are a couple of other casting choices that do not serve this production well, including the very miscast Mark Fisher, who is totally unbelievable in the role of a heterosexual ingénue.
Most disappointing is Paula Scrofano as Mrs. Meers a white-slaver who sells orphaned actresses to Asia and disguises herself by pretending to be Chinese. A character role like no other, Mrs. Meers intimidates her two helpers, the fantastically fun Chinese brothers Bun Foo (Paul Martinez) and Ching Ho (Richard Manera), into doing her dirty work in the hopes that Mrs. Meers will help bring their "mammy" from China to America.
Scrofano missed half the jokes in the script and her character interpretation boarders on insulting. After watching the production, how this role did not go to Sharon Sachs, who is relegated to the very underused Miss Flannery, is beguiling. The other casts member fair much better as Randall Dodge has some great moments as Trevor Graydon, Millie's boss and Melody Betts belts out her Muzzy solos with perfection.
Millie's biggest and life turning number, ‘Gimme Gimme' is the most regrettable victim of this mounting. For the entire number, Millie, who is finally coming out of her shell and into her own, is relegated to singing her solo on Muzzy's sofa which distracts entirely from Millie's transformation.
Scenic designer Kevin Depinet has created a bizarre, almost menacing set for Millie's story to unfold. The New York skyscrapers are almost an homage to Dr. Octopus' tentacles enveloping the characters during their production numbers. Tammy Mader's choreography is lovely to watch and is as complex as it is simple, which is just what the flapper dance steps need.
For those seeing Millie for the first time, though definitely enjoyable, there will be something missing that you may not be able to put your finger on. The missing link is the innocence of youth and the adventure of taking a leap in life. Gimme, gimme the heart of the original!
Thoroughly Modern Millie runs through December 20, 2009 at the Drury Lane Theatre Oak Brook. For tickets and showtimes, please visit www.drurylaneoakbrook.com