From the Omaha Weekly Reader Sept. 27, 2007            Back to News

As Good as it Gets
Inventive production grandly triumphs over mediocre material

by Steve Eskew

Thankfully, superb theater doesn’t always demand exceptional writing. Thoroughly Modern Millie, running at the Omaha Community Playhouse, exemplifies neither a brilliant book nor memorable songs, but it has become terrific family fare.

While it’s true that Richard Morris et al have considerably improved upon their original 1967 screenplay for this stage adaptation, it’s director Carl Beck and company who amazingly shaped mediocrity into worthwhile entertainment.

Having masterfully paced sophomoric dialogue and simplistic musical numbers, Beck cleverly awakens the irrefutable truth found in the lost practice of that thoroughly modern no-no known as stereotyping. He handles the concept with professional aplomb that’s offensive to no group — with the exception of those petrified of being perceived as anything less than politically perfect.

The plot concerns a Midwestern girl named Millie (Equity actor Jill Anderson) and her arrival in New York City during the Roaring Twenties. Considering herself a modern woman in the flapper era, she’s determined to take control of her destiny. Absolutely delighted not to be in Kansas anymore, Millie disembarks upon Manhattan to pursue the love of her life: immense wealth.

This means marrying for money, and she reckons the fastest way to travel from rags to riches is to find a job — and immediately wed the boss.

Before she can begin this glorious quest, however, she becomes attracted to Jimmy (Seth Fox), a fun-loving man of means by no means. When she finally lands a job and attempts to lead her unsuspecting superior to the altar, the boss turns out to be a pompous rogue named Graydon (Ryan Pivonka). Further complications arise when Millie befriends fellow residents at a hotel that caters to aspiring actresses and learns that Mrs. Meers (Kim Jubenville), the hotel’s sinister proprietress, dabbles in white slavery. Meers eventually kidnaps Millie’s naive best friend Dorothy (Angela Jensen-Frey) who’s from California and “doesn’t speak New York yet.”

Jensen-Frey projects a style that belongs only to her in a highly stylized show, effortlessly winning and holding the audience’s empathy for her character. Joining Jensen-Frey for “I’m falling in Love with Someone,” Pivonka possesses the audience lock, stock and barrel as one fabulously funny boob. The sweet, belligerent and deadly Jubenville also has the audience under her spell and delivers the killer song, “They Don’t Know” with supreme gusto.

Other outstanding performances include Connie Lee and Ben Beck (Carl’s son), as well as Muzzy Van Hossmere (Tiffany White) a volcanic cabaret singer (who reputedly married for money) as Millie’s confidant. When White makes her entrance, an already-impressive night of entertainment becomes grander.

For her rendition of “Only in New York,” she artfully builds to an exciting crescendo that demands and begets thunderous applause.

As for Anderson and Fox, theater students should be required to attend this show just to take notes on what constitutes professionalism. Their flawless performances represent two reasons why Omaha remains a theater mecca, a reputation that the Omaha Community Playhouse initiated decades back.

When all this talent is coordinated by a director of Beck’s caliber, the audience can count on major goose bumps throughout the evening. Beck has lovingly juggled a bony blueprint into excellent musical entertainment that’s as good as it gets. ,

Thoroughly Modern Millie continues through Oct. 14 at the Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St, Wednesdays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Admission is $38; $24 for students. Call 553.0800 or visit omahaplayhouse.org for reservations.
27 Sep 2007