DHT raises bar with silly 'Millie'
By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Special to The Advertiser
By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
"Thoroughly Modern Millie" is at its best when it is being thoroughly silly. And silliness reaches its peak in Act Two when Elitei Tatafu Jr. and Gary Masuoka, playing laundrymen, are both down on one knee, belting out "Mammy," Al Jolson-style in Chinese, beneath projected English lyrics.
Anyone in the audience who might still be holding the show at arms length at that point can't help but embrace it. After that over-the-top moment, the production can't do anything wrong.
But this season-opener for Diamond Head Theatre, directed and choreographed by Darren Lee, manages from the opening curtain to do everything right. Costumes and sets are detailed and colorful, the small orchestra directed by Emmett Yoshioka gives big support, the attractive chorus dances its heart out, and performances hammer out old cliches with new vigor.
Set in 1922 and based on the 1967 Julie Andrews movie, "Millie" is the story of every fresh-faced innocent kid from the Midwest who stepped off a bus in New York City, brimming with hopes and dreams. But, being thoroughly modern, this youngster has dollar signs in her eyes instead of stars. She intends to find a rich boss and marry him.
Shawna Masuda, who at age 19 already has solid leading roles in "Miss Saigon" and "Beauty and the Beast" tucked under her belt, shines in the title role, although it often feels too lightweight and bubble-headed for her natural scope and depth. But hang on for "Gimmie Gimmie," her rafter-shaking big solo number that demonstrates the remarkable power of her voice and stage presence.
Pedro Haro acquits himself well as Millie's love interest, a serviceable role of nice guy, paper clip salesman who captures her heart, but not her head. Still, they cook up some charm together with "I Turned the Corner," sung and danced while teetering on a building ledge 20 stories above Manhattan.
The predictable plot is chock full of specialty numbers and cameo parts, and the DHT production fills them well.
Cathy Foy camps with fiendish relish through the role of Mrs. Meers, concierge at a hotel for young working women and front for a ring of white slavers. Done up as a predatory dragon lady, she laments the loss of a failed theatrical career with "They Don't Know":
I almost tackled Shakespeare, a blushing Juliet,
And if the house were big enough, I still could play her yet.
Mikel Humerickhouse plays Millie's stuffed-shirt businessman boss and puts her through a dictation "Speed Test" — a patter song directly lifted from Gilbert and Sullivan's "Ruddigore."
Alison Maldonado has two big numbers as Muzzy, a jazz singer who married well. The role is a Carol Channing self-parody from the movie version, but Maldonado gives it her own spin despite strong echoes of "Hello, Dolly!" and "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend."
The chorus deserves credit for its synchronized typing and tap as steno pool girls and for their languid jazz dance movements in the club scenes.
"Thoroughly Modern Millie" comes across as thoroughly enjoyable and sets a high standard for the new season at Diamond Head Theatre.