For the News-Democrat
With artfully staged dance numbers resembling syncopated Busby Berkeley routines, a spirited "Thoroughly Modern Millie" delivered the "WOW!" new Muny director Mike Isaacson wanted to accomplish for the first show of his reign.
Opening night was a glorious affair -- the excitement regarding the new regime, the comfort of this 96-year-old tradition, and a splashy toe-tapping new show added to the august repertory. A lovely breeze wafted through the trees, nearly 7,000 people filled the seats, and the new program unveiled a cover design by renowned St. Louisan Mary Englebreit. Isaacson's welcome was warm and heartfelt, and his enthusiasm for the Muny, musical theater and St. Louis audiences was obvious.
The delightful "Thoroughly Modern Millie," which won six Tony Awards, is based on the 1967 movie musical starring Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore and Carol Channing. A spoof of 1920s and '30s movies, the show is set in 1922, when fair Kansas maiden Millie Dillmount arrives in New York City to land a job and a rich husband. A series of madcap adventures include becoming a stenographer, meeting her true love, investigating a white slavery ring, and being arrested at a speakeasy. It's lightweight fun, and takes us back to a very different mind-set.
The stars on stage were as bright as the ones overhead, with Broadway pedigrees and the snappy skills to pull off a plucky parody of Jazz-Age plots. A spry 69-year-old Leslie Uggams recreated her Broadway role as Muzzy, singing three songs as the eccentric wealthy socialite, as did Megan McGinnis as Miss Dorothy, the sweet orphan befriended by Millie, and Muny favorite Francis Jue, in the Broadway cast as Bun Foo, plays Ching Ho instead here. Tony-award winning actress Beth Leavel (title character in "The Drowsy Chaperone") stole the show as evil landlady Mrs. Meers. Tari Kelly, fresh from the Broadway revival of "Anything Goes," lights up the stage as the spunky small-town girl ready for modern life. She can sell any number, but was sensational with "Gimme Gimme" and "Forget About the Boy."
The two leading men were very strong -- Andrew Samonsky, who played Lt. Cable in Lincoln Center's Tony-winning "South Pacific," displayed his powerful pipes on "What Do I Need with Love?" and dueting with Millie on "I Turned the Corner." Broadway vet Stephen Buntrock showed off both his comedic and singing talents as the no-nonsense boss of Sincere Trust.
The colorful and crisp ensemble was flawless in the big numbers, and "The Speed Test" was one of the evening's highlights.
The flapper-era costumes are stunning, as are the sets. A new LED panel provided a Manhattan backdrop throughout, and it adds an interesting effect.
The show's score isn't as memorable as other Broadway musicals of the new millennium, but its rollicking choreography and charming cast turned "Millie" into a beguiling evening of entertainment.