In our theatre community, most folks do either legit or musical shows. There are some who do both, but not too many. A lot of folks who swing one way, so to speak, don't even go see the other kinds of shows. I'm more of a legit theatre guy.... I've only done a few musicals over the years, but I do go see some (mostly because there are friends involved), and I'd like to think that I appreciate them as well as the next guy, so long as the next guy doesn't know every score ever written, but has a basic appreciation for what is good and bad. Mostly the ones I've seen have maybe two or three really good performances, and then the talent level sort tapers off until it goes well past the point where people should be on the stage, save for their own enjoyment and well meaning passion, and featuring a band with roughly the same type acumen.
Not so tonight. Tonight we saw THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE at the Bridgeport Theatre Company. (Spoiler alert.... many folks involved in this show are friends of mine, and I have worked, and am about to work again, with that company. That is of no importance to this commentary.) I did not know this show, other than vaguely recalled Tony Award clips, and if I had, I would not have thought it my cup of tea. I would have been very wrong.
It is my cup of tea, because it is EXCELLENT. It is excellent because it is brimful of talent, execution, and theatrical savvy. It is brilliantly directed by Christie Newsom, and it's hallmark is in the details. It is filled with singers who can really sing, dancers who can really dance.... and this is by no means "dumbed down" choreography, it is clearly highly technical and challenging, and there isn't a dancer on the stage who can't hack it. Choreographer Emily Frangipane must have pushed them hard, because they are that good. And there are some very lengthy and masterful tap sequences by Eli Newsom that feature Rockette-like precision.
The band, led by Clay Zambo, was tight, precise, and swingin', with a special shout out to Chris Gensur in the sound both, who managed to take a band playing in a backstage room and make them sound like they were perfectly balanced in a downstage pit. The set was imaginative, and scene changes were breathtakingly fast and smooth. To be fair, I have one criticism, and while everybody can have a bad night, I thought that at least one follow spot operator was either angry at somebody or trying to read a book, and that sloppiness really stood out in such an otherwise seamless technical production.
Oh dear, I'm long winded hear, but bear with me for one more thing: You could go a long time before you see a production with better casting than this one.
In addition to the terrific ensemble, all of the principal actors really brought it. From the Chinese brothers to the hotel girls, from Millies Boss to Lauren Linns broad as can be yet grounded Mrs. Meers, and on to Eric Regans Jimmy, they were funny, sweet, and affecting, and arresting in their commitment and skill.
But you couldn't have MILLIE without a great Millie, and Laura Pacienza is nothing short of world class in this role. I daresay she could hold her own in any production of this play at any professional level. It is acting, dancing, and most especially singing of a very high calibre, indeed. And she's fearless. I like fearless.
Honestly, I think this production, as is, would stack up well against any professional production to which it could be compared. It is that good.
We left the theatre feeling joyful and uplifted, and that is, after all, the point of the exercise. Go see this show, and put some joy in your life. There should not be an empty seat in the house for this one.
The cast of local performers includes principal actors Laura Piacenza as Millie Dillmount, Chelsea Dacey as Miss Dorothy, Eric Regan as Jimmy, Marc Improta as Trevor Graydon III, Lauren Linn as Mrs. Meers, Mark Andrew Garner as Ching Ho, Jonathan David as Bun Foo, and Saige Bryan as Muzzy von Hossmere. The ensemble includes (in alphabetical order): Avery Bebon, Josh Cardozo, Lisa DeAngelis, Paul Goodman, Angela Jackson, Lindsay Johnson, Mike Katz, Emma LaPlace, Kalle Meehan, Nicole Monahan, Elisa Pasqua, Juliana Rivera, Olivia Rivera, Claire Regan, Caitlin Roberts, and Timothy Sullivan.
The production will feature Direction by Christy Newsom, Choreography by Emily Frangipane, Musical Direction by Clay Zambo, Set Design by Leif Smith, Costume Design by Jessica Camarero, Lighting Design by Phill Hill, Technical Direction by Don Rowe, and Sound Design by Chris Gensur. Sarah Iannarone serves as resident Production Stage Manager for BTC.
The show runs thru May 9. For tickets and info visit, bridgeporttheatre.org