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A Modern Musical

   The goal of any great musical is to transport the audience to a world in which internal thoughts are belted out, love blossoms over the course of a duet and all of life's problems can be solved with some tap dancing. Thoroughly Modern Millie, the 2002 Tony-award-winning musical, creates a universe where dance and song heal all wounds, albeit if only superficially.

   As the final production of the Maltz Jupiter Theatre's tenth anniversary season, Thoroughly Modern Millie is the ideal after-dinner mint: refreshing, light and leaves you feeling satisfied. The cast–led by the delightful Laurie Veldheer–delivers demanding choreography and hilarious characterizations, while the 1920s costumes and Art Deco-inspired set design bring the glory days of NYC to life.

Laurie Veldheer as Millie Dillmount and Ashley Kate Adams as Miss Dorothy. Photo by Alicia Donelan.

   Set in 1922, Thoroughly Modern Millie revolves around Kansas-born Millie Dillmount's attempt to survive and thrive in the Big Apple. She works as a stenographer while trying to make it big as an actress and land a well-to-do husband, two dreams shared by the gaggle of girls she befriends while living at the Hotel Priscilla. Millie subsidizes her workdays with thrilling evenings in the city with the charming Jimmy Smith and her best friend, Miss Dorothy. Problems arise when Millie notices that orphaned girls who check into the Hotel Priscilla keep disappearing, including Miss Dorothy; Millie then must join forces with Jimmy and her boss to thwart the hotel's dubious proprietor, Mrs. Meers.

   Laurie Veldheer shines as the endlessly charismatic Millie Dillmount. Coming straight from the Broadway production of Newsies, Veldheer has dancing chops and turn-of-the-century gumption to spare. Her mezzo-soprano voice remains strong from her opening solo all the way to curtain call, and her chemistry with Jimmy (Jeff Kready) is palpable.

   In this production, however, the supporting cast steals the show. Lenora Nemetz brings down the house as the pseudo-Chinese Mrs. Meers. A veteran Broadway actress, Nemetz delivers a devilish performance reminiscent of a sly Disney villain. Her scenes with her two underlings, Bun Foo and Ching Ho, capture the campy essence of the musical. Since Bun Foo and Ching Ho do not speak English, a translation screen pops up whenever they're onstage, a comedic device that never wears out its welcome.

Lenora Nemetz as Mrs. Meers, Billy Bustamante as Bun Foo and James Seol as Ching Ho. Photo by Alicia Donelan.

   If Mrs. Meers is the villain, then Miss Dorothy is the quintessential princess. Ashley Kate Adams plays her to perfection, her angelic blonde curls flouncing with each turn and light giggle. While visiting Millie at work, Miss Dorothy catches the eye of Millie's boss, Mr. Graydon. Few words can describe Burke Moses' grandiose (there's one!) portrayal of Mr. Graydon. Histrionic in a good way and charmingly bombastic, Moses breathes new life into what could potentially be a rather flat character. The highlight of the entire production comes when Miss Dorothy and Mr. Graydon lay eyes on each other for the first time. They immediately break out into "Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life!/I'm Falling in Love with Someone," a parody of a love song complete with dreamy lighting and bird sound effects.

   All of this terrific characterization is complemented by flawless choreography. The copious tap dancing and 1920s moves, choreographed by Denis Jones, will leave you doing the Charleston in your seat. Stand out numbers occur when the choreography deviates from the norm. "The Nutty Cracker Suite" features Millie and the girls letting loose after a few swigs of illegal gin; drunken falls and missteps transition into swing dance routines. The office numbers, including "The Speed Test" and "Forget About the Boy," see the girls swung about the stage in their stenographer desks. They tap dance as they scoot around, never missing a beat or a note.

Laurie Veldheer leads the pack as Millie Dillmount. Photo by Alicia Donelan.

   As with all Maltz Jupiter Theatre productions, the set and costume designs are spectacular. Unlike many plays and musicals, Thoroughly Modern Millie takes place in a myriad of locations, including the streets of New York, the hotel, Millie's office and a seedy laundry room, to name a few. Each scenic piece, designed by Michael Schweikardt, is perfectly Art Deco and features clean lines, great height and steely colors. The addition of Gail Baldoni's costume design completes the transformation. All of the women don a number of amazing drop-waist dresses, skullcaps and adorable bobs. The men sport wide-legged trousers, pinstriped suits and the occasional fedora.

   The goal of all theater is escapism. The Maltz Jupiter Theatre's production of Thoroughly Modern Millie allows the audience to escape to a fantastical world with stellar choreography, chic everyday wear and unbridled enthusiasm. By the end of the two-and-a-half-hour musical, you'll be begging for a room at the Hotel Priscilla, dubious proprietor and all.

The Maltz Jupiter Theatre's Thoroughly Modern Millie runs through March 24. To learn more or to purchase tickets, visit jupitertheatre.org.


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