Millie takes Manhattan

SVCT’s ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ charms audiences

EMERALDS Muzzy (Mia Veltri) explaining green glass love to Millie (Brianna Pember) in ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.’ Photo: Elizabeth Mandel

In two years of seeing shows staged by South Valley Community Theatre, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the talent displayed by local actors, with some of the best demonstrated by teenagers.

This opinion was confirmed by the current production of Thoroughly Modern Millie, the company’s annual teen musical. From the title role, vivaciously played by Brianna Pember, down through  the hapless Bun Foo and Ching Ho (Thanachai Kapinkan and Emily Pember), director Janell Cummings has drawn a terrific cast to animate this charming story about a wide-eyed young woman from Kansas who heads off to New York City.

Millie Dillmount shows up in Manhattan in 1922 with a firm plan: Find a job as a secretary to a wealthy businessman and then marry him. It wouldn’t be a musical if things didn’t go wrong from the first, with Millie shortly divested of her handbag, hat, scarf and one shoe in the rough and tumble of city life. She takes a room at a grubby hotel where the landlady has sinister connections to the white slave trade, and her new boss shows no sign of proposing marriage.

Brianna Pember’s Millie is sassy and funny, and although Millie might be a bit naïve, she’s no country bumpkin. It takes her just half of the title song for her to ditch the country ensemble and long curls for a snazzy red flapper-style dress, cloche hat and bobbed haircut.

Pember is thoroughly comfortable as Millie. On opening night, her lovely singing voice was a bit overmatched by the live 15-piece orchestra, but she makes up for a lack of volume with her full embrace of the role.

Newcomer Roberto Nolasco is a perfect foil to Pember as Jimmy Smith. He’s got a relaxed, easy style as a penniless young man who’s streetwise until he quite literally falls for Millie. His “What Do I Need with Love?” is poignant and sweet.

Millie gets some great support from her new friends in New York, specifically Melodie Knapp as Miss Dorothy Brown. Pember and Knapp’s voices merge nicely on “How the Other Half Lives.”

Stealing virtually every scene she’s in is Lucy Kaelin as the dastardly Mrs. Meers, who pretends to be a friendly Chinese landlady to young women at her hotel, but then conspires to sell them into slavery. Kaelin gets the deadpan delivery of “Sad to be All Alone in the World” when she learns a new tenant is an orphan just right, and her funny renditions of “They Don’t Know” and “Muqin” are show stoppers.

Alan Chipman leads a solid pit orchestra, and costume designs by Michelle Griffin, Alicia Corso and Adrianne Wilkinson are spot on.

Andrew Cummings’ elaborate set captures the nuances of 1920s New York City but on opening night was slow and cumbersome in the set changes.

South Valley Civic Theatre presents ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.’ Performances through March 17 at the Morgan Hill Community Playhouse, Fifth and Monterey, Morgan Hill.

Susan Rife
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About Susan Rife
Lover of arts & books; ukulele learner; therapeutic knitter; long-distance runner. Former Arts and Books Editor at Herald-Tribune.