Tonight while Kathy was working in the box office at the Racine Theater Guild, I decided to sneak down to Carthage and catch at least part of “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” which opened last night. This has been a star-crossed production in a number of ways – but chiefly in how the singer entrusted with the lead role of Millie dropped out of the show a week ago because of a death in the family . . . and her understudy, Maureen Toomey, had to suddenly step up and take over. There have been other hiccups along the way, which I won’t go into here . . . plus the whole show is a big one to take on, especially at a school which does not exactly hand the theater a blank check for its musical productions. And we’re not exactly the Dance Mecca of the upper midwest, and to take on a show with so much complicated dancing in it was to take on an almost insurmountable task. (Plus, the awful film version of this musial with Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore gave me a terrible first impression of the show .) In short, I thought whoever chose this show was NUTS to choose it . . . but what I saw tonight showed just how thoroughly wrong I was about that. This was a spectacular success, and my hat goes off to everyone responsible for it:
That begins with the director of the production, Neil Scharnick, one of my favorite people and someone who has earned the affection and admiration of the entire cast- especially in how well he has navigated this production through some very stormy weather and around some potentially disastrous crevices. And right beside him was music director Amy Haines, who did such a great job of drawing all of the musical elements of this show together – and who conducted the on-stage orchestra with great assurance. And then there’s the cast, which in the words of one of the principals was one of those cases where the roles and the singers lined up with almost magical perfection. I was especially proud of two of my private voice students, Dan Ermel and Michael Chase, who sang the two lead male roles just about perfectly. . . and I was happy to see some of my other guys up there as well, contributing in many and various ways to this success. . . including Ben Kuttler and Tommy Novak, who nearly stole the show as the Chinese brothers. And I want to single out Andrew Lenox for special praise. He just finished up another play (a world premiere in which we had one of the lead roles) and then, as a favor to the director, stepped into this musical scarcely a week and a half ago as one more much- needed guy in the chorus. No one would have blamed Andrew for bypassing this, but he was willing to do what he could for the good of the production. . . and very happily took a proud place in the background, which says something about his maturity and generosity. . . and about how what he loves is music theater rather than the spotlight.
Anyway, it was a stupendous success . . . and never has it felt so wonderful to be so utterly and stupendously WRONG about something! (The show runs this weekend and next- take it in if you possibly can.)
pictured above: the curtain call. left to right: Michael Chase, Bridget Estola, Vanessa Schroeder, Maureen Toomey, Dan Ermel, Christina Laur, Tommy Novak.