Showmanship at its best! “THROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE” at Theatre Jacksonville

THEATRE JACKSONVILLE, JUNE 9-25

Theatre Jacksonville opened the final show of its 97th season with the delightful “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” The production opened on June 9, 2017 and will remain on stage through June 25. This show debuted on Broadway in 2002, where it was nominated for eleven Tony Awards and won six, including Best Musical and Best Actress (Sutton Foster); the Dual Critics saw the production in New York. The musical was based on a 1967 Julie Andrews movie of the same name.

Thoroughly Modern Millie” is a big splashy romantic musical comedy that will take you back to 1922, just a couple of years after Congress ratified the Eighteen Amendment and prohibition became the law of the land. The story is that of Millie, who leaves Kansas for New York City when she is twenty-nine with a single ambition: to find and marry a rich man. This demanding role is played by the attractive and talented Taylor Kearschner, who fully conveys Millie’s vivacious and resourceful charm.

Millie begins life in the big city by checking into a boarding house for young wannabe actresses. Mrs. Meers, the proprietor, is an oriental woman portrayed by Tracy Anne Olin. Underneath her superficial smiles and accommodating charm, she is a villainous entrepreneur with a side businesses conducted from the establishment she owns; she is a white slave trader. She is assisted by her two employees, Ching Ho (Brandon Leporati) and Bun Foo (Spencer Puentes). Both are hilarious, and while they don’t speak English, you will find them easy to understand, as the theatre has an English translation of their conversations projected above the stage. This dynamic trio will have you laughing as they sing and dance to “Muqin” which is an unusual version of Al Jolson’s “My Mammy.”

Millie gets hired as a stenographer at an insurance company, and immediately finds a rich man she hopes to marry; her boss Trevor Graydon is a handsome no-nonsense type played by Matt King, who has a glorious voice. As fate would have it, Millie also finds she is attracted to Jimmy Smith, played by Logan Smith. He is also handsome and talented, but unlike Graydon, he is poor.

Millie, who can really belt out a song, soon becomes friends with Dorothy (Emily Suarez) another fine singer. They set out to do the town with Jimmy and wind up singing, dancing, and drinking in a speakeasy, which leads to complications when the cops show up.

Jimmy later invites Millie to a party given by Muzzy Van Hossmere (Felecia Ewing), a famous jazz singer who belted out “Only in New York,” a powerful vocal that really raised the roof and was an audience favorite. And while we won’t say more about the plot, you can probably guess that it has an upbeat ending.

The show had two choreographers and was filled with dancers who added color, excitement, and grace to the stage while serving the plot. We were blown away by all those lovely ladies typing on vintage machines and tap dancing at the same time.

Director Curtis J. Williams did the fabulous jazz numbers. Laura Mauldin, who has been teaching dance In this city for many years, not only handled the equally fabulous tap dancing but joined the cast as Miss Flannery, the supervisor of the steno-typist pool. Ms. Mauldin is a fine dancer and very funny as well, as she demonstrated during the “Speed Test” song. You are going to laugh at and love the character’s hair with a flair; a creative asymmetrical updo.

We were impressed by the breathtaking costumes of the era; they were wonderful eye candy. Kimberly Burns, who worked for Walt Disney Theme Parks as a costumer before settling in Jacksonville, designed the costumes with Liz Geers as her costume crew. Mickey Leger and the two directors did the hair/wig design.

Tim Watson is finishing up his first year at Theatre Jacksonville as Technical Director with another fabulous set. In “Millie,” the backdrop is filled with skyscrapers. He has created a number of rollable set pieces which are used for furniture, windows, and doors, allowing the cast to use the large stage area for the big dance numbers.

The musicians are listed as orchestra members in the program, but sounded like a fantastic jazz band. The group was conducted by Musical Director Erin Barnes, who was also on piano, and included Greg Balut (Trumpet), Jordan Gilman (Reeds), Damon Martin (Bass), Jack Miller (Drums), and Ashton Sharrett (Trumpet).

Others in this nifty cast were: Charly Adams, Nathaniel Bangi, Matt Barnes, Elizabeth Bradford, Kane Carter, Sade Crosby, Jeremy Ferri, Elizabeth Gerhardt, Samantha Jenkins, Missy Losure, and Rachael Rubright.

The future of musical theatre in Jacksonville looks bright. This show had twenty actors and eleven were on stage at Theatre Jax for the very first time. Local theatre owes much to local education; the cast included actors who attend or have attended Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, Stanton College Preparatory School, Florida Stage College of Jacksonville, Jacksonville University, and the University of North Florida.

Production team members included: Ashley Jones (Stage Manager), Brady Corum ( Assistant Technical Director), Brandon Lettow (Sound Design), Ron Haynes (Assistant Stage Manager), Charly Adams (Dance Captain), Austin Kelm (Lighting Assistant), Mark Rubens (Light Board Operator), Spencer Carr (Sound Board Operator), and Mackenzie Geers, Kaelan Kindy, and Michelle Simkulet (Properties)

This musical is showmanship at its best. You probably won’t walk out humming any of the songs, but they are all fun and well-performed, and the cast brings intensity and vibrancy to the story. Theatre Jacksonville is at 2032 San Marco Boulevard. For reservations or additional information, call 396-4425 or visit theatrejax.com.

About Will Henley

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