McCarson Jones/Special to the Herald
I’m a sucker for the classics, so I found the news that Fort Lewis College was staging “Thoroughly Modern Millie” for its spring production a refreshing addition to the calendar.
Visiting theater professor and director Dennis Elkins has herded a cast and crew of more than 80 people to put on a good old-fashioned stage extravaganza, which will open tonight on the FLC Mainstage Theatre. It’s not a revival of the golden age of musicals in the “Oklahoma” or “South Pacific” vein – the stage show was an adaptation of the 1967 Julie Andrews film and didn’t debut on Broadway until 2002.
But its Roaring ’20s setting and classic Broadway score trick us into feeling that “Millie” has been around longer than it has. And Elkins’ production does nothing to dispel that fantasy. Jane Gould’s costumes are nothing short of authentically spectacular, and Peter Salinger’s art deco, two-story set with a built-in elevator adds to the visual treat.
For musical accompaniment, music professor Jonathan Latta conducts a mini-orchestra of 12 hand-picked student musicians, and assistant musical director Ivy Walker provides the indispensable piano backing music from curtain to curtain.
Such touches put a professional finish on a college production. There is, however, still much that is amateurish, as many of the actors are still a bit unpolished and haven’t gained the confidence that comes with onstage experience. But that’s to be expected with a mostly student cast and the key roles are filled by the strongest actors, not the least of whom is Elizabeth Dunn in the title role of Millie.
Dunn brings the exuberance of her character, a wide-eyed, ambitious ideologue fresh off the turnip truck from Kansas who gets mugged within her first 15 minutes in the Big Apple. Adam Sowards is her shifty but eventually solid beau Jimmy Smith, and few would notice that Lindsay Emery is making her stage debut as the mercurial Dorothy.
Stealing every scene she’s in is Jessica Fairchild as the villainous Mrs. Meers, aka Daisy Crumpler, who masquerades as the Chinese proprietor of a hotel for “actresses” but whose chief source of income is selling the poor waifs into white slavery in Hong Kong. Also unavoidably eye-and-ear-catching is Ammon Swofford as the singing socialite Muzzy Van Hossmere. Swofford’s vampy performance couldn’t be matched by any of the actresses in the cast, and he’s perfect for the role.
Millie’s story has been out there for 45 years, but a quick plot synopsis is in order for those who have never seen it. Millie’s idea of modernism is to marry a husband for money, not love, and much of the story involves her trying to woo her boss, Trevor Graydon, played by Billy Pinto. There’s an underlying spark between Millie and Jimmy, but their romance is put on hold until she realizes the futility and stupidity of her ways.
This is one of the most enjoyable shows that the FLC theater folks have put on in some time. Elkins has the nuts and bolts of the production holding the show together solidly, and expect improvement with each performance over its two-weekend run as the rest of the cast catches up.