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Musical ‘Millie’ showcases depth of local talent pool

Signature Productions’ “Thoroughly Modern Millie” should quell the rumors, for now anyway, that local theater has a small talent pool. The 1920s spoof is stuffed with more than two dozen singers, dancers and actors who keep surprising you with their ability to stop a show. Numbers that start out slow and small-scaled often burst into heart-pumping spectacle.

The plot — young, naive Kansas woman meets the big city — isn’t anything to remember. But what director Leslie Fotheringham and her cast do with it is.

Kelly Albright, in the title role, projects an exuberance and love-of-life that’s matched only by her performance ability. She charms in comedic duets, then turns steel powerhouse when she belts her determination songs. Albright’s Millie is likable, but it’s clear you’d better not get in the way of her dreams. You come to understand what drives this woman to seek a better life.

Sandra Huntsman makes for an elegantly loony Miss Dorothy. She suggests a delicate ingenue who’s escaped from a Victor Herbert operetta. Edward Gelhaus, as the seemingly guy-next-door who pursues Millie, resembles the young Van Johnson. But his unexpectedly strong vocals and dazzling footwork make his performance his own. Tai Lewis communicates a silky, seductive presence as a jazz singer. Anita Bean captures the hysterical efficiency of an overzealous office supervisor.

And Kellie Wright as a supposed Chinese woman who calls herself Mrs. Meers manages the worst and funniest “Oriental” accent you’re likely to hear in a while. But when she sings, you take her seriously. Wright is gifted with Ethel Merman’s authority and Rosalind Russell’s sense of stature. She has a dancer’s control of her body.

Fotheringham creates a cohesive ensemble from all these leading-type performers. The whole show feels as if it is a joke coming from one person. The director also expertly achieves the light, fast pacing the script demands.

Technically, the production is a marvel. You’ll say “wow” a lot. Choreographers Teresa Martinez and Shannon Winkel help make the cast members look as if they are having the time of their lives as they dance the story.

Some actors occasionally wander dangerously towards goof rather than spoof. And a major joke about an elevator doesn’t work because it hasn’t been staged properly.

But whenever I started to quibble, I was soon distracted by another great number.

There’s more musical-comedy talent here per square foot than anyone has the right to ask for in a community production.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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