reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

It’s Summer Stock Stage season again and this summer’s first endeavor is Thoroughly Modern Millie, presented on Indiana Repertory Theatre’s main stage. This company of talented teens from around central Indiana, led by their gifted director – Emily Ristine Holloway, impresses once again with a high caliber production, full of sparkle and sass.

Set in 1920s New York City, the show tells the story of Millie Dillmount, who escapes to NYC from her Kansas hometown, fully intending to go “modern” and lift her status by marrying her boss – whoever he might be. Needing a place to stay, she is directed by a man she bumps into on the street, Jimmy Smith, to a hotel for actresses, where she meets Miss Dorothy Brown, a hopeful from California. Millie lands a job with The Sincere Trust Company and works on “landing” her boss, Trevor Grayden. But alas, Jimmy loves Millie, Grayden and Ms. Brown find each other irresistible and Millie winds up looking for love and being counseled by famous singer Muzzy Van Hossmere to never give up love for money. Throw in the secondary plot line that the hotel owner, Mrs. Meers is kidnapping any of her hotel guests who become orphans and sending them to Hong Kong in a white slavery scheme, and you have a complicated tale full of twists and turns with a good number of large roles – just the right choice to showcase this cast of 35.

Millie (Cynthia Kauffman) leads the cast in the “Thoroughly Modern Millie” number.

Cynthia Kauffman positively glistens as a vibrant Millie. She is more than up to the task in this demanding role. Her full-ranged vocal skills are just one aspect of her talents, and she makes the most of every one of her character’s songs – from the peppy title tune, to the complicated “Jimmy”, and the show-stopping “Forget About the Boy”, which she shares with the Stenogs ensemble. Also in the spotlight, as Jimmy Smith, is SSS veteran Jack Ducat. His smooth delivery in songs is a pleasure to experience and his acting skills have grown since we last saw him as Mr. Cladwell in last year’s hit, Urinetown. Together in numerous scenes, he and Ms. Kauffman light up the stage with their acting, singing and dancing abilities. Their quiet rendition of “I Turned the Corner” provides a very special moment in the program.

from left: Millie (Cythia Kauffman), Trevor Gayden (Nate Schlabach) and Jimmy Smith (Jack Ducat) in a scene from “Thoroughly Modern Millie”

Others who dazzle include Abby Anderson, whose work as veteran performer Muzzy Van Hossmere is totally up to the level of her character’s professional status; Samantha Grace Shelton gracefully covers the Dorothy Brown role, excelling in both the musical and comedic sides of the part; Nate Schlabach does an excellent turn as Millie’s boss, Trevor Grayden – he too shows a lot of comedy skills in his supporting role; Julia Murphy is terrific as office manager Miss Flannery; and Eva Scherrer mixes evil with humor as hotel matron (and white slaver) Mrs. Meers. Christian Barda and Faye Coy, as Mrs. Meers’ henchmen Ching Ho and Bun Foo, respectively, turn in terrific performances.

Millie (Cynthia Kauffman, center) and the Stenogs in a scene from “Thoroughly Modern Millie”

The company ensemble takes on a full list of smaller roles, plus an incredible array of music and dance numbers. Beautifully blended voices (the work of musical director Michael Berg Raunick) and precise dance combinations (from the minds of choreographers Cherri Jaffee and Lily Wessel) provide one show-stopper after another in this dazzling production.

Mrs Meers (Eva Scherer, center) with her hotel guests in a scene from “Thoroughly Modern Millie”

A plethora of costumes by Jeanne Bowling and her staff, fills the stage with color and mood. The orchestra, led by the aforementioned Mr. Raunick is sharp and/or smooth, as needed. Sets and lighting by designers Geoffrey Ehrendriech and Michael Moffatt are consistently on the mark.

The only ‘problem’ I had with any of the proceedings was a tendency for the sound quality – in speaking sections – to be a bit muddy. The majority of actors are miked and the levels used away from their songs made it hard for me (and Mrs. K) to understand many spoken lines. There seemed to be zero problem with the sound during songs. I hope this can be looked into and taken into account for the remainder of shows.

The entire cast of “Thoroughly Modern Millie”

Bottomline: this is just a terrific show produced by a terrific theatre company – spectacular from the top on down. Director Holloway has a special set of talents for leading these kids – albeit, very talented individuals – through the process of putting on high level productions. The young peoples’ abilities are used in a most adroit way and in my opinion, the results are a highlight of Indy’s theatre season.

To see this amazing show, you’ll need to move fast. It runs only until June 30th. Find ticket info and make reservations at the company’s website – http://www.summerstockstage.com and click on “Buy Tickets” in the upper right corner. It’s well worth your time and energy to see these gifted performers.

  • photos by Michael Camp