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Standing Ovation for 'Thoroughly Modern Millie'

Basking Ridge Review of "Thoroughly Modern Millie - January 2010

Talented and professional youths perform from the Front & Center Performing Arts Center - A must see.

And well deserved it was. This weekend, "Thoroughly Modern Millie" is being performed by the Front & Center Performing Arts Company at Ridge Performing Arts Center. My opinion Ð Buy a ticket and GO!

The very capable Senior Cast put on last night's show and will perform again today at 1:30 pm. The Junior Cast will perform tonight at 7:30 pm and again tomorrow for the 1:30 matinee. Having seen the Junior Cast rehearse the other day, there is no doubt their performance will be equally as good.

Tickets can be purchased at the door for $25 (orchestra seating) or $10.

Kudos to Director Renee Palermo and her production staff. "Millie" is a BIG show with 22 musical numbers, lots of choreography and numerous set changes. Last night's show moved seamlessly from one number to the next; the actors comfortably handling the stage, set and each other. Either Ms. Palermo is an expert at casting or her students should be heading to Broadway any day now; these actors played their parts to a tee, neither overacting nor acting awkwardly.

The story centers around Millie Dillmount, played by Kaela O'Connor. As the show opens it's 1922 and Millie arrives in New York City, escaping the confines of a small town in Kansas. Millie is out to start a new life, a more "Modern" life in the big city. Kaela offers a spirited and energetic portrayal of Millie, singing "Not for the Life of Me." Kaela has a vibrant voice and all the confidence needed to stand on the stage solo and belt out a tune (which she does again in the second act, dressed in red sequins singing one of the showstoppers, "Gimme, Gimme").

While Millie is the title role in the show, the cast is strong and balanced with the other primary characters (and two comedic sidekicks).

Miss Dorothy Brown, is played by Austin Bommer who personifies the role from the style of her hair to her body language and sweet voice offering a na•ve counterpoint to Millie. Comedy is provided in the parts of Mrs. Meers, the hotel proprietress (Kendall Beeman) and her two Asian sidekicks, Ching HO (Anise Molina ) and Bun Foo (Keenan Kariotis). Kendall portrays the dastardly Mrs. Meers with bravado. Coiffed in a geisha looking wig and red kimono type robe, Kendall delivers her lines alternating between straight up English and a put-on Chinese accent. She plans her next white slavery victim (Yes, white slavery, who would have thought) with gusto garnering plenty of laughs and resounding applause for "They Don't Know."

One of the love interests in the show (and there are more than one) is Mr. Trevor Graydon III, Millie's boss at the Sincere Trust Insurance Company. In "modern" fashion, Millie sets her sights on Mr. Graydon as a prospective husband, having read in Vogue that "modern marriage is a business arrangement." Michael Grey, as Mr. Graydon, is blessed with both a versatile singing voice and excellent comedic timing amusing the audience when least expected.

This review would not be complete if it did not comment on Anni Epstein's performance as Muzzy van Hossmere. Quietly beginning her solo, "Only in New York," Anni surprised and delighted the audience as she confidently and with panache grew the song into a showstopping crescendo. All one could think was, "Big voice, big voice." Living here in the suburbs, it was fun to hear the references to New York City of the 1920s: vaudeville, the hippodrome, the plaza, Coney Island, and the Yankees. This was conveyed in the set for "Millie" and cleverly created using a stationary backdrop and moveable furnishings the cast members moved in and out as part of the staging. The steno pool was a favorite.

Known as the "flapper era" the 20s ushered in a new style of dress. Director Palermo and her staff captured it perfectly from the dresses to the shoes to the hats.

Ridge PAC provided Front & Center with an excellent venue to showcase Thoroughly Modern Millie. The stage area is substantial and while the cast only had a few days of rehearsal on that stage, they moved with a comfort and confidence that said professionalism.

The music is fun, the dancing a delight and the surprises will make you laugh. After enjoying this year's Front & Center musical production, I'll make sure to put it on my calendar for next year.

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