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LA Theater Review

Thoroughly Modern Millie

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The obligatory audience applause following each number in a musical sometimes reminds us of the canned laughter that was a standard ingredient in old sitcoms. On opening night of L.A.'s first locally produced staging of this Tony-winning 2002 tuner, the cheering, whistling, and clapping felt spontaneous and richly deserved. And it wasn't limited to the songs; the divine comic characterizations likewise elicited showstopping reactions. Director-choreographer Troy Magino's stylish and joyous production takes us back to the glory days of lighthearted musical comedy. His rendition is far superior to the national touring edition.

In this freewheeling adaptation of the 1967 Julie Andrews film, librettists Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan retained the basic plot and two songs (the title ditty and "Jimmy"). Improving on the source material, they interjected nifty spins on Morris' original screenplay and added sprightly 1920s-flavored songs by composer Jeanine Tesori and lyricist Scanlan. Demure small-town girl Millie moves to Manhattan and becomes a saucy flapper, seeking employment with a rich boss she can marry, love be damned. The plot thickens when a long-in-the-tooth failed actor, masquerading as a Chinese hotel proprietor called Mrs. Meers (Cynthia Ferrer), runs a white-slave ring, abducting young girls from the hotel and shipping them off to China.

The familiar conventions of romantic farce get a shot in the arm with a dazzling array of spot-on performances. As the titular pixie, the hilarious Kate Fahrner vamps her handsome boss Trevor Graydon (the delightful Robert J. Townsend), while denying her love for gadabout Jimmy (the charmingly funny Kurt Robbins), tap-dancing her way into our hearts. The list of triumphs goes on: Ferrer's sidesplitting shenanigans as the self-deluded con woman; Reva Rice's bravura singing and warm characterization as wealthy chanteuse Muzzy; Jill Townsend's delicious take on saccharine ingénue Dorothy; Kami Seymour's uproarious Gestapoesque office manager Miss Flannery; and the inspired lunacy of Daniel May and Arthur Kwan as Meers' bungling henchmen.

With J. Branson's exquisite art-deco sets, Jean-Yves Tessier's lovely lighting effects, and Debbie Roberts' chic and witty costumes, the show looks like a Technicolor dream come true. Dennis Castellano's music direction and Magino's choreography are likewise magnificent. Musical Theatre West, raising the bar for quality in recent seasons, makes a quantum leap forward this time.

Presented by Musical Theatre West at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 Atherton St., Long Beach. Thu.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 & 8 p.m., Sun. 2 & 7 p.m. (Sun. 2 p.m. only Nov. 5.) Oct. 21-Nov. 5. (562) 856-1999, ext. 4.

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