Review: Drury Lane’s “Thoroughly Modern Millie”

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Drury Lane Oakbrook presents:

Thoroughly Modern Millie

by Richard Morris, Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan
directed by William Osetek
thru December 20th (ticket info)

Reviewed by Timothy McGuire

The traditional Thoroughly Modern Millie is given a new breath of life in Drury Lane’s high quality, highly energetic and enjoyable new musical, directed by William Osetek. From top to bottom, set to song, this is a near flawless performance of traditional musical theatre produced with Broadway-like standards – just  on a smaller scale.

thoroughly-modern-millie-3 Thoroughly Modern Millie is the story of a young woman who has moved to the big city in search of becoming a “modern woman,” one in search of wealth not love. Set in the early 1920’s, when the social and economic climate is changing, especially for women who have recently joined the work place and have a new independence when seeking happiness. With nowhere to go she takes refuge in a hotel that houses other single women, most of whom are out-of-work actresses, but unknown to Millie and the other girls the hotel is also a front for Mrs. Meers “white-slave” trafficking business. Unaware of the dangers around her, Millie is stubbornly set on marrying her rich boss and decides that there is no room for love in a modern woman as she flirts to get his attention.

Millie is magnificent. Holly Ann Butler makes her Drury Lane debut as Millie, and her tremendous talents stand out in every aspect of her performance. She can sing (whoa can she sing) dance, act and is innocently beautiful on stage as she takes the audience through the streets of New York as designed by Kevin Depinet.

Kevin Depinet has designed an open stage with a towering 3-dimensional backdrop of Manhattan creating depth and distance on stage. The huge buildings have a romantic feeling intensified by the changing colors and brightness that shines through the windows of each building depending on the time of day. The set hovers over the cast creating a visual sense of the magic that exist downtown.

The choreography is exceptional, and gives one an example of the meaningful influence that top-notch choreography can have with the plot and overall enjoyment of a production. Tammy Mader’s choreography brings the book and songs together, fluidly portraying individual emotions; creating entertaining numbers that enhance the feelings surrounding the stage.

The production really picks up in the second act where the choreography gets even more complicated, with surprise quirky moves, and the plot thickens with a merry-go-round of love interests to go along with Mrs. Meers increasingly deviant plan of kidnapping white-slaves. Millie’s journey to discover the value of true love rather than the materialistic measures of success is guided by the wealthy Muzzy (Melody Betts), and everyone finds their way to true love and happiness – well almost everyone.

thoroughly-modern-millie-2The energetic musical numbers throughout the production are led by truly gifted voices and enhanced by the full production of each song. Actresses and actors like Holly Ann Butler, Randall Dodge and Melody Betts are performances in themselves, and it is a special experience to hear a group of talented vocalists sing together at such a high caliber. My personal favorite is the deep baritone voice of Randall Dodge as Millie’s boss.

Along with the spectacular songs, a ton of comedy is slipped into the plot and brought out especially well by gifted and seasoned actresses like Paula Scrofano (Mrs. Meers,) and Sharon Sachs (Mrs. Flannery), who connect well to the audience with their well-timed antics displaying the off-beat personalities of their characters. Richard Manera and Paul Marinez (Ching Ho and Bun Foo) also bring continuous laughter into the musical with their expressive remarks and interactions with Mrs. Meers.

Drury Lane’s Thoroughly Modern Millie is a top notch professional production that is as good as any musical you will see of this size. The cast is filled with talented stars, the creative team is at its best, and the stage is strikingly magical. For musical theater lovers, this is the show you want to see.  And for those new to the theater, this might be the musical that sucks you in to Chicago’s musical theatre scene.

Rating: ★★★

 

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Review: Drury Lane Oakbrook’s “Cabaret”

Drury Lane’s “Cabaret” needs some dirt
underneath it’s green fingernails

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Drury Lane Oakbrook (map) presents:

Cabaret
By Joe Masteroff (book), Fred Ebb (lyrics) and John Kander (music)
directed by Jim Corti
thru October 11th (buy tickets)

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

cabaret01Drury LaneOakbrook’s production of Cabaret is pretty, but afraid to get dirty. Jim Corti’s choreography  is tight and the singing is more than serviceable, but it lacks the pulse and frantic energy that have made this show a postwar classic. The desperation of post-World War I/pre-Nazi Germany is never truly captured, and the end result doesn’t quite have the political punch that the book and music deserve.

When American novelist Clifford Bradshaw (Jim Weitzer) arrives in Berlin, he and the audience are greeted by the over-the-top theatrics of the post-World War I cabaret, but director/choreographer Sam Corti‘s vision of the Kit Kat Club feels tame. Yes, there is plenty of sex and booze flowing, but the atmosphere feels more Cole Porter than Kander and Ebb. The nature of the cabaret, an underground pleasure den where German citizens could escape the hardships of reality, seems to be lost as grit is replaced with glitter. The Master of Ceremonies (Patrick Andrews), takes the stage with a boyish delight, but Andrews struggles to find the darkness in the character that symbolizes the Nazi party’s rise as a legitimate political force.

cabaret02 Zarah Mahler has a similar struggle with the darker thematic elements of the show in her portrayal of Sally Bowles, the English songstress that can’t balance her love for Clifford with the frivolity of the cabaret at the same time. The chemistry between Weitzer and Mahler never quite ignites, making the relationship between the two seem forced and putting even more pressure on Mahler to show Sally’s desperate need for affection, a feat that is finally accomplished in her rendition of the musical’s title number.

cabaret02 Unlike the 1972 film, the stage version of Cabaret devotes much more time to the ascent of the Nazi party and the consequences it has on ordinary Berlin citizens. In a heartbreaking subplot involving Clifford’s landlady Fraulein Schneider (Rebecca Finnegan) and her Jewish beau Herr Schultz (David Lively), the cruel and pervasive nature of Nazism provides the motion that the production needs. When Fraulein Kost (Christine Sherrill), Schneider’s bitter prostitute tenant, leads the denizens of the cabaret in a rousing version of “Tomorrow Belongs To Me” at the couple’s engagement party, the tension is nerve-rattling. The scene shows a glimmer of the Cabaret that could have been, a terrifyingly exciting examination on the appeal of true evil in a desperate world.

Rating:  ««½

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