To turn the old saw "the whole is greater than its parts" on its head, when it comes to the musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, playing weekends through March 10 at Richey Suncoast Theatre, "the parts are greater than the whole."
In this case, "greater" doesn't mean larger; it means better, more enjoyable, superior. And that goes for the singing, dancing, acting, smoothly and quickly changed sets and spot-on lights, costumes and music. But not always the sometimes puzzling, madcap plot with its mix of musical genres and sly spoofs of Broadway and movie classics 42nd Street, Sweet Charity, Stage Door, Gypsy and others, and gleefully incongruous plot twists.
Even so, co-directors Marie Skelton and Linda Hougland pulled it all together to give the audience a fast-paced, delightful evening of entertainment that's worth seeing over and over again.
Alyson Larkin is outstanding as the naive young Millie Dillmount, who leaves her Salina, Kan., home for the bright lights of flapper-girl-era New York City in search of a rich husband. Ms. Larkin plays Millie with just the right amount of sweetness, light and poise and really shines in her big solos Not for the Life of Me, Jimmy, Gimme Gimme and ensemble pieces.
She finds her man right away in the person of Jimmy Smith (a charming Jeffrey Oles), but he's penniless and not the fellow she came all the way to New York to snare. So she latches on to her new boss, business titan Trevor Graydon III (Rob Tilley) and his gobs of cash, never mind that he sees her only as a competent employee.
Tilley is simply splendid, first as the super-dramatic boss spewing rat-ta-tat Gilbert & Sullivan style dictation to the quick-witted Millie, then in an over-the-top mini-mellerdrammy with Millie's roommate, Dorothy (Michelle Procida), the shyly quivering young rich girl who wants to learn about poverty even as Millie wants to learn about wealth in How the Other Half Lives.
Lighting operator Jane Case is spot-on (pun intended) when she showcases Tilley's Trevor and Procida's Dorothy falling in love in a split-second in a hilarious spoof of musical theater romances (Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life). Tilley continues his bravura performance in a drunk scene, right on through to the closing moments.
The ebullient Tracie Callahan is a darling as the "Asian" owner of the Hotel Priscilla for Young Women, Mrs. Meers, who is at one moment a fawning hostess bowing and talking Chinese pidgin English, the next a conniving kidnapper/white slaver with a Southern accent, and the next a reincarnation of Gypsy's Mama Rose, pouring out her envy and disappointment at not making it big in showbiz.
Especially fun are Keith Surplus and George Brazier as Mrs. Meers' unwilling partners-in-crime Ching Ho and Bun Foo, the stereotypical Chinese laundry boys who help export the hotel guests to lives of streetwalking in Hong Kong. Surplus and Brazier spent weeks learning Chinese phonetically and by listening to CDs of the script so their Cantonese sounds genuine and makes their characters come alive.
Kristin Bram Broughton is adorable as Muzzy Van Hossmere, the nightclub chanteuse who fell in love with what she thought was a pauper, who turned out to be a millionaire. Cathy Smith is a hoot as the strict office manager Miss Flannery, who is as mushy/romantic as anyone, though she hides it well.
Choreographers Linda Hougland, Allison Iskowitz, Joanne Donovan and Amanda Castillejo put together some high-energy tap routines for the high-stepping chorus line (Addie Mentry, Dezzie Sala, Julide Iye, Veronica D'Addio, Michelle McKee, Dandy Blethroad, Joanne Donovan, Brittany Farrell, Amanda Castillejo, Emily Runnels and Suzanne Meck).
Co-director Marie Skelton's colorful, shimmering, spangly costumes are dazzling, both in number and in quality. Steven Schildbach's six-piece combo does a fine job doing the many song styles and tempos.