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Review: Sierra Rep's 'Millie' willbowl you over

SONORA — Who says you can't schedule a performance during the Super Bowl?

Sierra Repertory Theatre was filled to near capacity for Sunday's matinee performance of its season kickoff, "Thoroughly Modern Millie," a humorous musical sendup of Jazz Age Manhattan.

Those who passed up football, chicken wings and parties were treated to a fast-moving dance extravaganza staged by big city-performers. The click, click, clicking of tap shoes never stopped for long in this enjoyable story of romance, adventure and international intrigue.

Created by Richard Morris, Dick Scanlan and Jeanine Tesori, the show won the 2002 Tony Award for best new musical and is based on the 1967 movie with Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore and Carol Channing.

The music is a delightful mix of new and familiar songs, including clever updates on Gilbert and Sullivan and Tchaikovsky.

Millie moves from Kansas to the Big Apple in search of a glamorous life but instead quickly ends up in a seedy hotel run by a dragon lady. The sinister character is involved in a white slavery ring that kidnaps young women and sends them to Asia to work as streetwalkers.

Because this is a musical comedy and a happy ending is preordained, Millie never is in danger for long and manages to have lots of fun partying with her girlfriends and enjoying the attentions of a cute boy.

Laura E. Taylor, who played the title role as an understudyat the Marriott Theatre near Chicago, brims with enthusiasm and looks stunning in her glittery gowns. She's a triple threat who can sing, dance and act equally well.

Taylor is well matched by Sierra Rep company member John C. Brown as her tough but charming suitor, Jimmy, and Lisa Christine, who appeared in the national tour of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," as her naive best friend, Dorothy.

Jan Leigh Herndon, who played Sheila in "A Chorus Line" on Broadway, brings glamour to her role as wealthy nightclub singer Muzzy, while Jon Reinhold, last seen in Sierra Rep's "Baby," is comedically clueless as Trevor Graydon, Millie's stiff boss at her office job.

Fans of Sierra Rep's recent staging of "Hello, Dolly!" will be glad to know that Elizabeth T. Murff, who played the title role, is back as the deliciously devious dragon lady, Mrs. Meers. She played the same part in the recent national tour.

Arthur Kwan, who also appeared in that tour, and Thomas Isao Morinaka converse and sing in Chinese as Mrs. Meers' reluctant henchmen, with supertitles providing the often funny translation. While the roles seem at first as if they could be racist caricatures, they don't come off that way on stage. The characters are among the most sympathetic in the show.

Director/choreographer Scott Viets fills the dance numbers with high kicks, cartwheels, flips and splits. Some of his best work is evident in "The Speed Test," which blends typewriters and tap.

Noble Dinse's cityscape backdrops and Laura Conley's flapper costumes work well in establishing the 1920s time period.

The overall quality of Sunday's performance was so high that it's easy to overlook a few bumps, like when the lights went out for a few minutes, forcing cast members to say their lines in the dark.

You can't help but be happy when you're around the irrepressible Millie. She has more spirit than 10 cheerleaders in the final minutes of a tight game.

Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan can be reached at 578-2313 or lmillegan@modbee.com.


"Thoroughly Modern Millie"

Rating: ****

Where: Sierra Repertory Theatre, 13891 Mono Way, Sonora; 202 seats

When: Through April 15; Thursdays 7 p.m.; Fridays 8 p.m.;Saturdays 2 and 8 p.m.;Sundays 2 p.m. (Wednesdays, March 7-April 11, 2 p.m.)

Running time: 2½ hours, including an intermission

Tickets: $13-$28

Information: www.sierrarep.org, 532-3120

**** Excellent; *** Good; ** Fair; * Poor

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