The music, mannerisms and phraseology floating through the Kendall Hall Main Stage Theatre were anything but “thoroughly modern” during TCNJ Musical Theatre’s production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” The show, which played from April 6 to April 10, was originally a movie released in 1967 starring the great Julie Andrews. It was soon turned into a play and is now a favorite to perform of high schools and colleges. It’s not hard to see why. There’s infectious music, a lot of dancing, a fun love story and some rather entertaining characters. But the show, set in the era of prohibition and flappers and released in the turbulent ’60s, shows its age occasionally, with racial jokes and outdated language.
But TMT made it work. They made it work well on Thursday, April 7.
Millie Dillmount, the show’s namesake, played by junior English major Katy Widmer, moves from Kansas to New York City with the sole intention of getting a job with a wealthy boss whom she can marry. This idea of love and marriage as a transaction is new and Millie is proud of it.
But then she meets Jimmy Smith, played by freshman computer science major Graham Mazie, a seemingly poor guy who flits from job to job and doesn’t stay anywhere long. They hate each other, they snip at each other and then, oh, they’re in love with each other. It’s predictable but equally adorable.
Along the way, Millie meets some very interesting characters, including the boss she has designs on, Trevor Graydon, played by senior Spanish major Raymond McCue, and a wealthy girl overly interested in the poor lifestyle, Miss Dorothy, played by sophomore digital arts major Liz Gerger.
Perhaps the most interesting is Mrs. Meers, played by senior music major Tracy Witko, a human trafficker posing as an Asian hotel owner. And thus the blatant racial stereotypes begin. Her cronies, Ching Ho (junior special education major Mark Accardi) and Bun Foo (senior art education major Zach Mazouat) don’t speak English, and while the subtitles provided on a screen over the stage were a nice effect, it was at times hard to watch the two brothers get taken in by Mrs. Meers over and over again, just because they couldn’t speak English.
This show was full of music, and some of the highlights were “The Speed Test,” which featured McCue reciting a letter as fast as humanly possible to test Millie’s stenographer skills, “They Don’t Know,” Mrs. Meers’ tribute to the fact that no one, well, knows about her plans, and “What Do I Need With Love,” Jimmy’s realization and immediate rejection of his love for Millie.
Perhaps the best moments were “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life/I’m Falling in Love with Someone,” performed by the two most overdramatic and hysterical characters in the show, McCue and Gerger, and “Gimme Gimme,” where Widmer got to show off her impressive vocal talent and Millie makes some major decisions.
All of the cast members were great, but some performances stood out. Widmer was engaging as Millie, and her transition from innocent to “modern girl” was acted very well. Gerger was funny as Miss Dorothy, adding overblown drama and fun to every scene she was in. Mazie stood out as Jimmy, with clear vocals and sincere yearning flowing nicely with the character’s more sarcastic side.
Witko, Accardi and Mazouat were hysterical as the bumbling villains, and even if the racial stereotyping was a little uncomfortable, nothing got a bigger laugh than Witko’s continued utterance of “Sad to be all alone in the world!” when meeting new orphans to kidnap for her “white slavery” ring.
And Accardi and Mazouat played off each other well, with exaggerated movement and well-done accents to add to their performance (which was almost entirely in Chinese).
But McCue perhaps stole the show as Mr. Graydon, with his woe-is-me attitude, great body movement and pitch perfect voice, both in speech and song. He was extremely funny as the wealthy but clueless boss.
All in all, “Thoroughly Modern Millie” was a winner, and even if it was hampered by outdated content at times, the fact that it was still enjoyable and fun is a testament to TMT’s talent.
Caroline Russomanno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.