Turned down by Equity when they went cap in hand for concessions, the producers of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” left most of their set and about 10 actors in New York for the national tour. While the hoofing is stellar and the 24 touring union humans try their considerable best to make up for the missing hardware, the show will still look thin to anyone who saw it in Gotham. Given the lack of names in the cast and iffy title recognition, this tuner likely will shake down as a mid-level road attraction that will keep hinterland subscribers reasonably happy — but create little single-ticket buzz.
The two strongest principals — and they both are terrific — are Darcie Roberts and Hollis Resnik. The leggy Roberts is more of an overt character type than Sutton Foster. And this hardworking road vet (who emerged unscathed from the rough tours of both “Busker’s Alley” and “Copacabana,” for goodness’ sake) is not exactly a fresh new face able to sell tix. But she’s a terrific dancer, a decent singer and an ebullient personality with a poignant streak of vulnerability and earnestness. Ergo, she sells Millie all night long and does everything one could reasonable ask.
Resnik, an edgy Chi actor who appeared for years in “Les Miz” tours, also is very good. She’s clear, specific and funny — her nod-and-a-wink Mrs. Meers is well-timed, droll and stays clear of any potential ethnic traps.
The male leads have a tougher time. Sean Allan Krill (also a Chi actor) has a splendid voice and a genial personality, but he’s a lightweight comic presence in the role of Trevor, who requires more of a booming baritone and a palpable gravitas. As Jimmy Smith, Matt Cavenaugh has the opposite problem. He has the boyish fellow’s puckish quality down cold, but one misses the soaring tenor vocals. Krill actually would have made a better Jimmy.
In terms of the set the hotel elevator went the way of budget cuts. Millie and Miss Dorothy are now left hoofing pointlessly in the middle of the floor instead of thrilling the audience with an ascent into the flies. Even more disturbingly, the very funny end-of-show photo gag segment wherein the guys from Hong Kong finally bring their mother to America has also been completely cut. Surely that could have fit into the truck. Without it (and some other similarly nixed effects), the show loses much of the ironic, post-modern quality that functioned as a leavening agent for its otherwise formulaic content. Except for the work of Resnik and Roberts (and a charmingly whimsical little turn from Janelle A. Robinson as Miss Flannery), that quality is absent in the first national. These actors deserved a bit more help.
But these are rough economic times. And certainly, the hoofers dance themselves silly and the production is well paced and generally enjoyable. In Green Bay, where the show also did its techs, the production went down just fine with the local legit-loving crowd, even if there didn’t appear to be anyone in the balcony.