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In a strange season when Ventura County is seeing more and more (attempted) kidnappings it is almost fitting that Studio C Performing Arts should be producing Thoroughly Modern Millie the musical at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center. Playing through 21 October 2018, this community production is Aces with a phenomenal sounding cast.
|Ensemble. Photo by Paul Cranmer. (c) Studio C.|
With Tony Award nominated music and lyrics by Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan, the musical is an adaptation of the 1967 movie by Richard Morris starring Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore and James Fox. Millie (Colette Peters) is a fresh-off-the-bus girl from Salina, Kansas, who desires to be the “modern” girl who puts money above love when it comes to searching for Mr. Right. She is convinced it is her handsome and rich new boss (Brent Ramirez) all the while ignoring the spark between herself and carefree Jimmy Smith (Nick Tubbs, AEA). The secondary storyline revolves around the hilariously wicked Mrs. Meers (Stephanie Lesh-Farrell) who is using her hotel as a means to find fresh meat for her white slavery business with help of Chinese brothers Ching Ho (Khemuni Norodom) and Bun Foo (Niko Montelibano).
Stepping into some pretty big shoes previously filled by Kristin Chenoweth, Sutton Foster, Darcie Roberts and Amanda Holden, Peters makes Millie her own from the first note. Her range, especially during the first songs, was noticeably lower than what we are used to but boy can she hit those power notes. What makes her Millie so lovable and gives her the star power is her chemistry with the other leads during the non-musical moments that can otherwise feel drawn out. She sparkles onstage and its that sparkle that made this reviewer even forget about the surprise regarding her vocal range by the time she belted out “Jimmy” at the end of Act One.
Featured actor Stephanie Lesh-Farrell nearly steals the show with her hilarious portrayal of bad girl Mrs. Meers. It is a tough role to perform without being too over-the-top or too insensitive but Lesh-Farrell finds a good balance and had the audience laughing whenever she purred out her signature line “sad to be all alone in the world” and her scenes with Khemuni Norodom and Niko Montelibano were delicious.
Rounding out the leading cast are three of the strongest singers in the show. Brent Ramirez (previously seen in Next to Normal) is the starchy love interest and boss who brings spirited style to a role that showcases his comedic timing and gorgeous baritone. Sure he is not called to be raw and unwavering in this more lighthearted piece but he easily wins over the audience with his terrific “Speed Test” with Peters and the Ensemble and does some adorable footwork during “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life/I’m Falling in Love With Someone” that saves the choreographer (Keenon Hooks) from too strong a criticism (more later). Nick Tubbs (AEA) is a smooth and flirtatious leading man and his chemistry with Peters is excellent. His first act solo, “What Do I Need With Love?”, was luscious and made me yearn for more.
Bryce Hamilton does not have the lithe dancer body you would expect for Miss Dorothy Brown but the moment she opens her mouth to sing all those concerns go out the window (almost). Like I said, her voice is gorgeous and her duet with Ramirez, “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life/I’m Falling in Love With Someone”, feels way too short vocally. The big problem cannot be blamed on her but Hooks who fails to give us the anticipated choreography that just is oh so frustrating and disappointing. Rounding out the leading cast is Monica Quinn (AEA) as cabaret singer Muzzy Van Hosemere. Quinn has a gorgeous and rich voice that makes listening to her two numbers blissful. Unfortunately whether it be Director Jeffrey Scott Parsons‘ lack of direction or Quinn’s lack of pizzazz, her portrayal is too subdued. Carol Channing is a hard act to follow, I admit.
As I’ve said, major props to the cast for their strong performances and gorgeous singing. The ensemble did a fabulous job keeping up with the leads especially when it came to the group dance numbers. And I particularly couldn’t take my eyes off Jade McGlynn (see above in the purple dress and blonde wig) who was hilarious as Alice, one of the Hotel Priscilla girls and Kristal Tan who had a smile that could light up the entire theater and was properly highlighted as the Pearl Lady in her dance with Tubbs.
Sadly some minor directorial decisions kicked up a false note from time to time causing a jarring effect despite the actors’ brilliant attempt. First of all, a “Speed Test” without a typewriter is quite silly. No it is very silly especially when Graydon doesn’t take a typed sheet out of the typewriter but picks up Millie’s notepad to read the letter. What?? In keeping with the “Speed Test” scene, there is a surprisingly lack of desks on stage despite the space that leads to the awkwardness of ensemble members standing around trying to relate with those who are at their desks in this and “Forget About the Boy”. Seth Kamenow‘s set was primarily a simplistic background of NYC with interchangeable accessories. This worked for the most part but because Parsons had the set changes made in full view of the audience it became a somewhat awkward stalemate when during Act II an ensemble member could not get the accessory to hang properly stalling the scene. Quinn made a funny aside to the actor that had the audience laugh and the scene moved on but there must have been an easier way to handle scene transitions. And sadly one minor but important cameo was left out at the finale. Everyone lived happily ever after (minus Meers) but where was this cameo????
Aside from those small points the show really provided a great afternoon out at the theater. The cast from lead to ensemble was strong and sang beautifully. You will not be disappointed if you shell out $25 for a seat.