Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Theater review: From Kansas to the Big Apple, follow a dreamer in Thoroughly Modern Millie
Though venue technical difficulties may hinder your experience.
HURST Well, who doesn’t want to start their weekend with a quirky tale of stenography, flapper dresses and white slavery? Artisan Center Theater’s production of Thoroughly Modern Millie (running through March 16) provided a youthful and energetic glimpse into the life of a small town Kansas girl during the 1920s in New York City.
Would she marry for love or money? That was the question.
Designers Dennis Canright and Nate Davis used every available inch of wall space to depict appropriate set locations, with lovely cityscape murals (by Shelbie McElree) painted on the east and south walls. Three other vignettes were built along the perimeter walls of this 150-seat theater in-the-round, including a very creative piece that simulated a working elevator.
Unfortunately, one of the cutest scenes in the show – the window ledge scene in Act II - was lost on a couple dozen audience members as it happened 180 degrees behind them. I noticed some patrons making the effort to turn about for the several minutes-long scenes, but others decided just to stare straight ahead and listen.
Costumer Nita Cadenhead must have had a very full pin cushion to keep this bountiful bunch wigged and dressed and changed in tempo with the style of the period, though the result was hit and miss across the board. The suit Jimmy wears in Act II, for example, was tailored nicely to his build, as were many of the dresses and head pieces worn by the female ensemble. Further, the hysterically vibrant suits and hose worn by Miss Flannery throughout the show were character-making and memorable.
I was disappointed, however, with the seeming lack of detailed attention paid to costuming the lead character. Each of Millie’s dresses, with the exception of the red flapper, fit her like a potato sack – and not in a trendy, fashion forward way. And whereas I expected to see a sleek, coiffed and bobbed wig for our Millie, she instead sported a too-long, stringy, mousey brown number that didn’t help to accentuate her facial features and gestures.
Many of the technical aspects of this production were right on point. The music tracks sounded vibrant through the house speakers, and the information broadcast on the two video screens was clever and well-timed. The lighting left much to be desired, however. From her very first moment on stage, Millie’s face was in shadow. Granted, the hat she wore in her initial scene didn’t help the situation, but there were other points in the show where Millie should’ve been front and center but was instead hidden in the dark.
Sticking to the technical side of things for a moment, I’m not sure what was happening with the microphones, or how they were distributed amongst the cast, or whether they were even turned on during some portions of the show. For the most part, I was able to hear the leads when they were singing or delivering lines, but not so much with the ensemble when they were delivering lines. And it almost seemed as if the ensemble was singing with their half voices – they could barely be heard while singing en masse.
Technical disappointments aside, a few of the performances were worth the price of admission. Namely, Lauren Urso as the determined Kansas transplant, Millie Dillmount. Miss Urso’s spry, earnest portrayal of this young woman, combined with a vocal talent that was perfectly suited to this material, made her the show’s standout. Running parallel to Miss Urso in the performance category was Oscar Seung as Trevor Graydon III. Mr. Seung’s confident portrayal of the top dog at the Sincere Trust Insurance Company was filled with humor, strong vocals, and a fiercely fast-paced and accurate version of “The Speed Test.”
As Jimmy, Evan Ramos was charismatic and charming, though his vocals lacked the strength to keep pace with Ms. Urso’s during their duets. As Bun Foo and Ching Ho, Dan Nolen, Jr. and Julian Gonzales played off each other well and were especially funny during “Mugin.” Mr. Gonzales’ strong vocals were a delight.
Rounding out the “Mugin” trio was Alix Bond as the devilish Mrs. Meers, landlady and secret slave trader. Ms. Bond’s vocals were really nice, but her performance, otherwise, was somewhat flat. This character was written with many of the best lines, but there was neither range to Ms. Bond’s delivery, nor consistency with her stereotypical Asian verbal inflections.
All said, this production of Thoroughly Modern Millie made for a mostly enjoyable, family-friendly evening of theater. The technical distractions and some of the lacking design elements did take away from the show’s overall impact, but the performances of Ms. Urso and Mr. Seung kept it from falling completely below par.
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
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