By Heidi Sutton
“Thoroughly Modern Millie” opened at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport last Saturday, a fitting finale to its 2015-16 season. With music by Jeanine Tesori, lyrics by Dick Scanlan and book by Richard Morris and Scanlan, the play is based on the 1967 film starring Julie Andrews and won six Tony awards, including Best Musical in 2002. It has been making the rounds in community theater and high school productions ever since.
Drew Humphrey directs the talented cast with polish and precision. From the jazzy opening number, “Not for the Life of Me,” the show takes off running and never loses momentum.
The year is 1922 and “modern gal” Millie Dillmount, played by Tessa Grady, has just arrived in the Big Apple from Salina, Kansas, with the sole intent of marrying for money instead of love. Within minutes, she is robbed of her hat, her purse and a shoe. She quips, “10 minutes in this town and I have my New York horror story.” Grady is perfectly cast as a determined woman who takes charge of her own destiny and jumps right in to the flapper lifestyle with a new wardrobe and hairstyle. However, things start to go haywire when her “Chinese” landlady, Mrs. Meers, turns out to be an impostor involved in a white slavery ring in China, and the rich man Millie wants to marry doesn’t seem to notice her.
With fancy footwork and pitch-perfect voices, the entire cast shines, with special mention to Daniel Plimpton (playing Jimmy Smith), Sarah Stevens (as Miss Dorothy Brown), Nicole Powell (as Muzzy Van Hossmere) and Tim Rogan (playing Mr. Trevor Graydon), who all gave stellar performances. However, it is Michele Ragusa, in the delicious role of Mrs. Meers, and her two henchmen, Ching Ho, played by Anthony Chan, and Bun Foo, played by Carl Hsu, who steal the show. Meers’ famous line, “Sad to be all alone in the world,” said every time she comes upon an orphan and next victim, draws the most laughs.
The show is a feast for the eyes, with glittering flapper dresses and three-piece suits designed by Kurt Alger perfectly capturing the era. The set is equally impressive. Cleverly designed by Jonathan Collins, panels on the stage resemble a sparkling New York City skyline, and when spun around reveal small additions to a scene such as a desk or a bench.
Choreographers Dena DiGiacinto and Humphrey do an incredible job incorporating the jazz age’s dance styles, including the Charleston, the shimmy and the can-can. “The Speed Test” in which Millie shows her typewriting speed, accompanied by a highly energetic tap ensemble, is breathtaking. As a special treat, conductor/keyboardist James Olmstead and his eight-piece powerhouse band belt out jazz and blues tunes flawlessly throughout the night, completing a wonderful evening of live theater.
The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Thoroughly Modern Millie” through July 10. Running time is approximately two hours, including one 15-minute intermission. Tickets range from $69 to $74 with free valet parking.
The season continues with “Mamma Mia!” from July 21 to Sept. 11, “1776” from Sept. 22 to Nov. 6 and “Mary Poppins” from Nov. 17 to Jan. 1, 2017. To order tickets, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.