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Thoroughly comfortable ‘Millie’

Good-time musical takes you back to the ‘familiar’

Posted: June 1, 2012 6:00 a.m.
Updated: June 1, 2012 6:00 a.m.

Millie, played by Justine Celeste Meza, and Trevor, played by Kelly Roberts, share a moment in “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”

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"Thoroughly Modern Millie" opened at the Canyon Theatre Guild last Saturday night with both the title and feel of a classic that you've seen many times - except that maybe you haven't. Though the Academy Award-winning movie of that title, starring Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore and Carol Channing, has been around since 1967, I'd never seen the much more recent, Tony Award-winning stage play (and, most likely, you haven't either). Thus, things weren't so ingrained in my head that I felt I could sing along with the cast. (This was probably a good thing for the rest of the opening night audience.)
Director Patti Finley said that the Broadway play had music and songs that the movie did not. "People find it (the show) familiar, but are not sure why," she said.

In case you are "familiar" but a bit fuzzy in the details, the play notes put it thusly: "Take a trip to the New York of the roaring '20s, a time when bands were getting jazzier, cars were getting snazzier and women were bobbing their hair and entering the work place. Join in the adventures of Millie Dillmount, a small town girl who arrives in New York to become a "modern" and to marry her boss, whoever he might be. Will true love win out in the end?"

I doubt I'm giving away any secrets when I say that true love does win out in this production - and though things took a while to get rolling, its fun getting there in the end.

"It's so much fun, the music and dancing," Finley said. But she was hoping the audience would accept the over-the-top "Asian" characters, who provide much of the comedy. For my part, taken in the spirit of a 1920s story, written in the 1960s - and having a 1940s feel, as Finley put it - this was all good fun. The choreography was lively and tight, the music was inspiring and the singing voices mellow.

In these kind of romps, you don't take the plot seriously, which is good because the whole intending to marry your boss, any boss, premise is hard to get behind, and bundling girls off as slaves to the orient, as the comedic evil threat, must not be worried about at all.

What remains then is good old fashioned fun, lively music and some excellent acting. As Finley put it, "The kind of stuff that makes people forget their troubles."

As typical with a CTG production, there are a lot of players, only a few of whom I have space to recognize here. With apologies to the deserving rest, here we go:

Heidi Appe plays Mrs. Meers, the manager of the hotel for women that Millie moves into when she comes to New York. This character is the most over-the-top it could be, with Meers being a Caucasian "masquerading" as a ridiculously stereotyped Asian and, with the help of her two henchmen, kidnapping girls "Aw awone in de worwd" and bundling them off to white slavery. Appe is absolutely brilliant in this (once you realize you are not supposed to believe she is Asian), so much so I am still quoting her and laughing.

Justine Celeste Meza plays Millie with the perfect wide-eyed sweetness and bubbling energy.

Tom Lund plays Jimmy, Millie's true love interest, with great presence and plenty of youthful energy, himself.

Stephanie Klimek plays Dorothy, Millie's overexuberant and over-dramatic friend, with a liveliness that could make sparks.

Kelly Roberts plays Trevor, Millie's boss, with just the right bewildered flair, and Sarah Lang plays Muzzy, the nightclub singer, with just the right confidence.

Marcus Langston plays henchman Ching Ho, and Monica Ubungen plays henchman Bun Foo. Their arguments, in Chinese and explained by English text projected behind them, are good fun, and Ching Ho's redemption at the end is satisfying.

"Thoroughly Modern Millie" plays Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. on June 2, 9, 15, 16, 22 and 23, and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. on June 3, 10, 16, 17, 23 and 24. Reservations may be made by calling the box office at (661) 799-2702. Parental guidance is recommended. Tickets are $15 for juniors and seniors, and $17 for adults. The Canyon Theatre Guild is located at 24242 Main St., in the heart of Old Town Newhall.

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