With R&H, director/choreographer Ron Chilsholm is mining a melodic motherlode. Walter Bobbie's conception, originally produced on Broadway by the Roundabout Theatre in 1993, delivers generous samplings from the top tier of hit musicals produced by this gilded partnership: Carousel, The King and I, South Pacific, and Oklahoma! The medley also meanders through lesser triumphs such as Cinderella, State Fair, and Flower Drum Song, exhuming additional gems. Perhaps most precious are the treasures unearthed from musicals we're never likely to see revived -- Me and Juliet, Allegro, and Pipe Dream.
Many of the more familiar gems get new settings, beginning with Fred Wells' brilliant musical arrangements. Wells is particularly kind to the score of South Pacific, adding beautiful vocal harmonies to "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair" and "Some Enchanted Evening." Musical director Drina Keen and her fine sextet contribute memorably to the makeover. Woodwind player Rich Graham's alto sax solo is the jazziest update on "Kansas City," and Liz Burns's rich cello sound adds luster throughout the evening.
Onstage, Susan Roberts Knowlson dominates, her gorgeous soprano voice now in full bloom, vivacity and confidence brimming in every step. The warmth of her "Something Wonderful" comes late in the evening, but it's worth the wait. Daryl Wood Gerber has a half step on Knowlson in the hoofing department, and her salesmanship is superb on the supremely buoyant "A Wonderful Guy," but we must cut her some slack on the high notes.
Tad Hixson charms his way through the best duets, moving gracefully and connecting romantically with Knowlson on "Shall We Dance?" Jerry Colbert's tenor has lost some of its former sheen on "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'," but his "Honey Bun" has winsome comedy and his "This Nearly Was Mine" has a new autumnal power.
Chisholm's choreography adds fun and sparkle. With the guys in tuxes and the gals in cocktail dresses, it's a pretty classy evening with James Duke's simple trellised set and his alert lighting.
As a member of the Independent Presenters Network, Charlotte's NC Blumenthal Performing Arts Center was among the producers of the original Broadway version of Thoroughly Modern Millie, winner of the 2002 Tony Award for Best Musical. But the IPN and our PAC either didn't own a big enough piece of the action or they didn't have big enough expectations for the production currently on national tour at IPN venues.Whatever the reason, the Millie that visited Belk Theater last week was thoroughly middling. Begin with the main antagonists. In the title role, Darcie Roberts fell far short of the Tony Award electricity generated by Sutton Foster as Millie. She hit all the notes and executed all the steps, but the physical appeal of Foster, the slim vulnerability, and the flapper's dancing bravura were nowhere to be found.
More damaging was Hollis Resnick's exaggerated portrayal of Mrs. Meers, owner of the Hotel Priscilla, who preys on orphan girls as she traffics in white slavery. "They Don't Know," a showstopper for Harriet Harris -- and her passport to the Tony Award for best featured actress -- lost nearly all of its shocking, comical impact. I'm not sure whether Resnick's Chinese accent was more insulting to Chinese Americans or to the intelligence of anyone who might accept it as genuine for more than one full sentence.
Compared with the original production I saw last December, Millie's new friend Miss Dorothy was dumbed-down, her boss was de-starched, and her true love was de-glamorized. As the evening proceeded, the sharp contrasts were blurred and the comedy/romance was dulled. The look of Millie was preserved in the touring version's costumes, lighting, and choreography. Huge corners were cut, however, in the scenery. There was no quaint elevator at the Hotel Priscilla, as there still is in the Broadway version, which needs to be tap-danced upon in order to spring to life.
So when Millie and Miss Dorothy sang "How the Other Half Lives," they never became airborne. Neither did the rest of the show.