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"Millie' is thoroughly delightful

The title of Thoroughly Modern Millie is a misnomer. The winner of six Tony Awards in 2002, including best musical, is actually a prime example of post-modernism from the standpoint of putting a bright, contemporary spin on old-fashioned material.

After all, nothing could be more hackneyed than the tale of a young woman from Kansas who moves to New York in the 1920s determined to land a job as a stenographer and marry her rich boss. It's like an ungainly, rather cynical merger of How to Marry a Millionaire and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

Yet, for the most part, director Michael Mayer and the rest of Millie's creative team succeeded in transforming a campy 1967 Julie Andrews movie into an entertaining piece of retro chic. The touring production is now at Ruth Eckerd Hall.

Darcie Roberts is not a conventionally pretty leading lady, at a lanky 5 feet 8, but she has a kind of soulfulness, along with a big, exuberant smile, that makes Millie Dillmount much more interesting than such a stock character deserves to be.

Roberts made her mark as a dancer, with a breakthrough performance as Tommy Tune's love interest in the ill-fated Busker Alley, but she more than holds her own in a big, belting love song, Gimme Gimme. Her attempted seduction of the lantern-jawed insurance executive, Trevor Graydon (Sean Allan Krill), involving some Carol Burnett-like clowning with a wheeled typing table, is a hoot. Likewise inspired is Millie's and Graydon's dictation and tap dance duet, The Speed Test, a Gilbert and Sullivan patter number taken at a crazy pell-mell pace.

There's nice chemistry between Roberts and Joey Sorge, who just joined the tour this month, playing Millie's on-again-off-again beau, Jimmy, especially in their swoony second-act pas de deux on a window ledge, I Turned the Corner. That, in the show's musical highlight, segues smartly into an operetta-style quartet (the music by Victor Herbert) with Krill's Graydon and the girl of his dreams, the blushing ingenue Miss Dorothy Brown (Diana Kaarina), I'm Falling in Love with Someone.

Millie gets bogged down when it dwells on a white slave ring (talk about an old-fashioned concept) run out of the Hotel Priscilla, the low-rent digs from which Millie, Miss Dorothy and other gold-digging provincials stage their assault on the Big Apple. Wrapping up this silly story line stretches out the show by about 20 minutes that it could easily stand to ditch. Still, aspects of the subplot are fun, such as the vamping of Mrs. Meers, a cartoon Chinese dragon lady played with comic verve by Hollis Resnik.

Pamela Isaacs has a torchy turn as chanteuse Muzzy Van Hossmere, whose Only in New York is the obligatory, and not terribly compelling, anthem to Manhattan.

Despite its longwindedness, Dick Scanlan's book, adapted from the Richard Morris screenplay, has some good wisecracks, such as Millie's tart assessment of Cafe Society, where she and Jimmy end up washing dishes to pay their bill: "Now I know why they don't put prices on the menu. They're ashamed."

Two of Millie's Tonys went to Martin Pakledinaz's colorful costumes and choreographer Rob Ashford for his funky take on jazz-age dancing, and both elements are memorable.

Jeanine Tesori's clever score, featuring nine songs by her plus an assortment of standards, is given a snappy performance by the orchestra, conducted by Eric Stern, in the Tony-winning arrangements by Doug Besterman and Ralph Burns. Only the somewhat muddy sound mix seemed not quite up to the top-level production values.