The house is full. Anticipation is high. The curtain rises on a stunning group of golden art deco skyscrapers lighted brilliantly. Out steps Millie (Maggie Marlin) looking like a fuchsia-clad version of the children's book character, Madeline, an appropriately innocent impression of a Kansas bumpkin's first moments in Manhattan. When Marlin opens her mouth to sing the opening number, “Not for the Life of Me,” off goes the audience on a wild ride in the Barksdale Theatre's “Thoroughly Modern Mille.”
At every twist and turn of this goofball romantic tale, another surprise pops up — a clever gimmick, great dance number or brilliant visual. Ron Keller's splendid set presents an eye-pleasing slide show of color and deco styling to perfectly offset Sue Griffin's carefully chosen costume hues. Especially gorgeous is the contrast of Keller's plum-colored hotel hallway and the turquoise Chinese dress of Mrs. Meers (Linda Poser). And Lynne M. Hartman's schmaltzy but playful pink heart lighting ramps up romantic moments. Director and choreographer Patti D'Beck's typing-pool tap-dance number, in which tapping shoes suggest the sound of typewriter keys, awed the audience into cheers. But way high on the amazing charts is the convincing Chinese singing of Christopher Hlusko and Eddie Tavares and Timothy Ford's rapid recitation during the “The Speed Test” song.
Marlin makes for a spunky, scrappy kind of Millie, using her signature belt to portray Millie's determination and joie de vivre. Rough around the edges, Millie has a fine character contrast with Ali Thibodau's soft and smooth Miss Dorothy, the differences emphasizing the talents of each actress. Marlin and Jimmy (Zak Resnick) have a wonderful moment of chemistry in “Turn the Corner.”
“Thoroughly Modern Millie” is a great way to put some sizzle in your summer without having to turn up your air conditioning. — M.B.
“Thoroughly Modern Millie” runs through Aug. 2 at the Empire Theatre, 411 E. Broad St. Tickets are $37-$40. Call 282-2620 or visit www.barksdalerichmond.org.
Knowing only the basic outline of “Summer of '42,” I expected Stage 1's latest musical to be about a young man discovering love and learning about loss. While those themes get addressed, this energetic production focuses more distinctly on high-school boys and their obsession with female breasts. A trivial subject, perhaps, but also a fairly hilarious one that provides a perfect counterpoint to the show's weightier topics. This balance makes “'42” a fulfilling summertime treat — sweet, sad and funny in equal measure.
The story begins with Hermie (Christopher M. Stewart), Oscy (Drew Seigla) and Benjie (Jonathan A. Perez) reuniting on Nantucket Island for summer vacation and ready to raise hell, or at least heck. While Oscy sets his sights on the local teenage lovelies (Ellie Atwood, Audra Honaker and Maggie Roop), Hermie is smitten by Dorothy (Robyn O'Neill), an older woman who's just sent her husband off to war. After their chance meeting turns into a friendship, Hermie becomes convinced he's in love.
Stewart has plenty of boyish charm and shares a winning chemistry with O'Neill. While Dorothy is more of a symbol than a fully realized character, O'Neill offers peeks into her inner life, particularly with her soaring vocals on songs such as “Promise of the Morning.”
The most engaging scenes here, however, involve the boys' adolescent antics, particularly Oscy's rampant horn-doggery, perfectly rendered by Seigla. Perez has some fine moments as the bird-watching nerd of the bunch, terrified of actual girls. Though all the girls are great, Atwood earns the most attention as the most hot-to-trot of the trio.
Director Chase Kniffen continues to do expansive work in a relatively small space, with Mercedes Schaum's seaside set design a real standout. The musical director, Tony Williams, gets some orchestra-like sound from his six-piece band, providing a robust backdrop to this fine production. — D.T.
“Summer of '42” plays at Stage 1 Theatre Company, 8130 Dickey Drive in Mechanicsville, through July 18. Tickets are $15-$22. 427-7548.