- The Washington Times - Friday, December 10, 2004

Girls like Millie Dillmount (Darcie Roberts), the ambitious heroine of the peppy musical “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” probably have been around since antiquity. You can just imagine them arriving in Athens around 700 B.C., wearing togas that scream “Hicksville” and hairdos from the Iron Age, determined to make something of themselves and wipe away every trace of their bumpkin roots.

In Millie’s case, it is New York circa 1922, and she is fresh from the cornfields of Kansas. Within minutes, she has become a Manhattan horror story, stripped of her purse, luggage, and shoes. Yet Millie views her mugging as a mere blip in her plan to reinvent herself as a “modern” — cool, calculating, devil-may-care — who marries for moolah rather than that mushy stuff, love.

In a flash, Millie is baring her knees, rouging her cheeks, hanging out at speakeasies and drinking bathtub hooch. Of course, Cupid can pierce even the armor of a flapper, and Millie falls for a rakish, financially challenged chap named Jimmy Smith (Bryan McElroy), forcing her to choose between love and money.

However, the musical poses the age-old question: Why not have both? Not that it would ever occur to Millie and the other femme fatales at the rooming house to achieve wealth on their own.

The musical makes a desultory nod to women entering the work force in the 1920s, but mostly the females in “Millie” get jobs to get men. As one character points out, this isn’t modern; it’s a throwback to the world’s oldest profession.

This man-trap angle, coupled with a white-slavery subplot that perpetuates Asian stereotypes absent from popular culture since Mickey Rooney played the Japanese neighbor in the film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” gives “Millie” a faintly embarrassing retro air. Spiffy choreography, energetic performances and fabulous art-deco costumes cannot entirely dissipate it.

Yes, “Millie” is a period piece that reflects the reigning zeitgeist with all of its biases. But it isn’t actually from the Roaring ‘20s. It’s based, instead, on the 1967 Julie Andrews movie that was a rather strained attempt to capture the madcap verve of the Jazz Age.

The Tony-winning show isn’t meant to be Strindberg, but fizzy, escapist entertainment, much like the frothy musicals and screwball comedies of the 1920s and ‘30s. As far as production values go, “Millie” dazzles, yet beneath the sequins and fancy footwork, the musical seems vacuous.

The music, by Jeanne Tesori with lyrics by Dick Scanlan (who also wrote the book with Richard Morris) is a pastiche of standards from the 1920s, two songs from the 1967 movie — including the infectious title tune — and nine new songs.

The new songs capture the hectic rhythms of the ‘20s ably enough, but what elevates them are Mr. Scanlan’s clever lyrics, patterned after the wordplay and puns favored by Cole Porter and Noel Coward.

The score seems recycled and patched together at times, borrowing heavily from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker,” old Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald musicals and Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.

You cannot fault the vivacity of the performances.

Miss Roberts is the epitome of pluck as Millie, a young woman who morphs into a swanlike flapper within minutes after arriving in New York while still retaining some of her ducky ways.

She executes the tricky choreography — which features dances of the era, such as the Charleston and black bottom — with graceful aplomb. Her singing meets the standards of a true Broadway belter, but in the show’s quieter moments, her voice has an endearingly vulnerable catch in it.

Equally appealing is Mr. McElroy’s Jimmy Smith, who goes from jaunty Lothario to tender, confused romancer after meeting Millie. The knockout performance of the evening belongs to John Ganun, lending a booming operatic voice and a swell sense of physical comedy to the role of stuffed-shirt businessman Trevor Graydon.

Stephanie Pope makes a glamorous Josephine Baker figure — possessing some of the icon’s charisma and great humanity — as entertainer Muzzy Van Hossmere. In delightful contrast to the vampy Muzzy and Millie is the character of Miss Dorothy, played with turn-of-the-century charm and coyness by Anne Warren.

The high-stepping dance routines, high energy and haute couture costumes of “Millie” go far — but not far enough — to compensate for an overall sense of flimsiness and flightiness.


WHAT: “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” music by Jeanne Tesori, book and lyrics by Dick Scanlan

WHERE: Opera House, Kennedy Center

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, 1:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Through Dec. 26.

TICKETS: $35 to $93

PHONE: 202/467-4600

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