Thoroughly Post-Modern Muny dazzles with ‘Millie’

“Thoroughly Modern Millie”

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

The Muny opened its 94th season with a dazzling re-imagination of “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” about a terrified Kansas girl who arrives in New York with two suitcases and the goal of marrying a wealthy boss.

The opening also marked the debut of the Muny’s new executive producer, Mike Isaacson, who says he knows “exactly how” Millie Dilmount feels. He recalls, in his production notes, “My arrival in St. Louis was similar to Millie’s. The ability to pack up and start somewhere else and pursue one’s dreams is a distinctly American one…When I first arrived here in 1982, I never dreamed that I would one day be part of this historic and majestic theater.”

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Isaacson, a producer of the stage version of the Tony-award winning “Millie,” more than proves his chops with this “Thoroughly Post-Modern Millie” production on the unique, cavernous Muny stage. All of the lead roles are energetically realized with excellent acting, singing and dancing.

Tari Kelly is endearing and empathy-evoking as Millie, a starry-eyed innocent who arrives in Manhattan in 1922, seeking financial security by finding and marrying a well-off boss. Along the way, she and a charming but immature Manhattanite named Jimmy Smith, well-played by Andrew Samonsky, “meet cute,” meaning that they will fall in love in the course of the show, thus complicating Millie’s plans. She had already targeted her boss at the steno job she landed at an insurance firm as her ticket to financial security. Stephen R. Buntock, blessed with an especially strong singing voice, handles the role of boss Trevor Graydon deftly.

Rounding out the cast are Megan McGinnis, reprising her role in the Broadway company as Miss Dorothy Brown, an old-fashioned Southern gal, who seems very out of place when she and Millie decide to share a room at the Pricilla Hotel for single “Young Ladies.” The hotel is soon revealed to be a “white slavery” conduit, presided over by the sinister Mrs. Meers, played to comic perfection by Tony Award-winning Beth Leavel.

Also featured and quite good is Leslie Uggams as Muzzy, a role model for Millie’s ambition to marry someone wealthy. “Millie” marks veteran actress’ first return to the Muny stage since 1977, when the Emmy and Tony-Award winner played Sarah Brown in “Guys and Dolls.”

In addition to the top-tier cast, the show benefits from truly outstanding production values. Scenic designer Michel Anania earns kudos for eye-popping, truly three-dimensional sets, which combine vintage 1920s postcards of iconic New York City buildings, brought to vivid life with uncanny realism. The sets invite the audience to “look around corners,” showing when Millie applies for her steno job, the reception area, and the boss’s office, which rotate into place for her first face-to-face with the object of her marital ambitions.

Marc Bruni does a superb job of directing the large ensemble cast, and choreography director Chris Bailey takes full advantage of the stunningly large Muny stage for glittering production numbers.

All in all, Isaacson and company deserve to feel very good about the season opener, with the show’s energetic, entertaining pace maintained throughout the two acts.