Lofty aspirations always merit praise, setting the bar high, while adding a dose of hubris can be off-putting. New venture Prism Theatrics states their vision on the inside cover of the show program of their inaugural production, Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan’s Thoroughly Modern Millie, with music by Jeanine Tesori. “By bringing a Broadway caliber production to Main Street USA…our broad reach…exceeds expectations. Prism Theatrics believes in art like no other theater company – we bring premium art to audiences, one step above professional theater.” I am not sure what that last statement means, but it certainly communicates intent to excel. “Main Street USA”, in this case, is the 2856 seat Will Rogers Auditorium in Fort Worth’s Art District, with the show opening July 3rd, running through July 20th, tickets priced in the $100/seat range. Sure hope they get larger houses than the 100 or so folks who came out to cheer them on opening night.
Why open with Thoroughly Modern Millie? It doesn’t quite fit into the category of musty old chestnut, but it demands nothing especially dynamic or unique from its performers. As plots go, its tale unfolds in a conventional and predictable way; its music is tuneful, not particularly adventuresome. What Prism presents is a workmanlike, competent, mostly entertaining production of a sweet but less than compelling musical based on a light, romantic 1967 film. It won six Tony Awards in 2002 and has become a popular staple for high school musical production. Given their lofty stated goals and claim of professional expertise and achievement, I’d say Prism comes up a bit short.
Director/choreographer Brandon Mason cast successful Broadway and regional stage actor Anneliese van der Pol in the title role, and thinks enough of her to place her photo and bio before the title page of the production in the program. She has a decent singing voice and exhibits enthusiasm. 1920’s costuming does little to help this less than tall girl with its dropped waistline, sailor-style yokes and busy prints. She looks like more of an understudy than a lead, particularly when viewed next to slim, elegant, tall Elise Youssef as gal-pal Dorothy Brown. Most of the women’s costumes make them look thick through the middle and dowdy. Sheran Goodspeed Keyton seems to struggle awkwardly with her modernistic couture attire that almost overpowers her. (Tristan Raines, costume design)
Men get a better deal with costume, looking sharp and tailored in suits and ties with suspenders. Garen McRoberts makes a handsome, charming Jimmy Smith, the “average guy” with a secret fortune. His professional focus and energy help give this light, commercial romance more depth than might be expected. Texas-based regional actor Keith J. Warren is perfectly cast as stuffed shirt businessman Trevor Graydon III, with his patrician profile and ramrod straight posture enlivening his cartoon-like character. He provides unexpected, perfectly timed comic relief and rounds out the cast well with his melodious singing voice. Choreography works adequately, while not doing anything especially fun or unusual with 20’s dance routines.
Production Music Director Eugene Gwozdz gets even singing performance out of his cast of 25. The orchestra drowned out solos with lower pitched female voices on opening night, making their lyrics hard to understand. The program does not list the orchestra.
The strongest, most professional aspect of this production is its whimsical, expressionistic set, framed in Art Nouveau latticework flats that flow in and out with ease and speed. Far upstage a detailed, multi-faceted grey-hued panorama of New York City circa 1920 graces the full width and breadth of the back wall, giving a tangible, enticing sense of place to the production. (Set Designer — Paul dePoo, Associate Set Designer — Alexander Grover). It’s one of the best articulated set designs I’ve seen in the region this year.
An entertaining, non-controversial show Thoroughly Modern Millie makes a fun outing for the whole family. If teachers, firefighters, law enforcement and military personnel present their official identification to the Will Rogers Auditorium ticket office, that ID earns two free tickets. Additional tickets will be available for a special half-price discount.
Thoroughly Modern Millie, presented by Prism Theatrics, runs through July 20th at Will Rogers Auditorium in Ft. Worth. Visit www.prismtheatrics.com for tickets and more info.