What follows are my thoughts based on each performance I saw of Thoroughly Modern Millie during its preview period on Broadway at the Mariott Marquis Theatre. Warning: There are plenty of spoilers below. Don't bother reading any of it if you don't want almost the whole show spoiled for you.
March 19 - Overall, I found Thoroughly Modern Millie disappointing, but not without promise. The evening was marred by a few technical mishaps, but I'm willing to bet they'll be fixed by tomorrow. In terms of what I really liked: The subtitle gag was very funny, and the switch to the Chinese in the second act utterly brilliant. (It might benefit from greater economy in their use, but it's great that they were included at all.) I didn't have much of a problem with the sets or costumes, which I thought fit in with the cartoony nature of the show. The orchestra was great, and the show had an overture! And I liked Harriet Harris really a lot--she did everything that could be expected of her given the material. I liked Sutton, but thought that she lacked fire and the certain soon-to-be-a-star quality I wanted to see in the role. (Then again, anyone following in Julie Andrews's shoes would have that sort of problem.) Marc Kudisch is playing Marc Kudisch--again--but does it pretty well, and I enjyoed his performance. Sheryl Lee Ralph, on the other hand, is utterly wasted, and I couldn't believe anyone let her second act number get onstage. I didn't care for Gavin Creel too much--he read as far too young for me. And I thought Angela Christian wasn't tremendously likable as Miss Dorothy. She may grow into the role, but she really sort of bored me. In terms of the music, I still think the songs from the movie are the best ones, and while Jeanine Tesori's additions are fine, they're mostly unspectacular. ("Gimme, Gimme" I enjoyed, even though I'm not sure Millie entirely earns the right to sing that song, and I thought "The Speed Test" was pretty brilliant.) I think there are a lot of problems--maybe too many to fix during previews--but they could start by cutting 20 minutes out of the show (it got out just a couple of minutes before 11:00) and rediscovering the sense of innocent fun from the movie. Up the stakes and the energy for everyone and everything in the show--I'm just not sure it really hit its stride until Harriet Harris made her entrance, and 15 minutes into the show is almost too late. One of my college professors had three words he applied to every single musical comedy he ever directed: Louder, faster, funnier. That is exactly what this show needs, and I hope it gets it.
March 28 - The show has already improved noticeably from its first preview. It still has a long way to go, but in nine days, more has been changed for the better than during the entire preview period of Sweet Smell of Success. The big changes, at this point, are almost nonexistent. There is a stronger sense of pacing to the whole thing, and it comes to a close sometime between ten and fifteen minutes earlier than it did at the first preview. I can't say exactly how this time difference was brought about, since the changes were so minor. The closest to a major change that has been implemented to this point is a reprise of "How the Other Half Lives", sung by the waiters at the Cafe Society, that has been cut. That was very minor and added little to the show--as I recall, it just covered a costume change or something of that nature. Sure, it's only 30-45 seconds, but in a musical running long, seconds can be vital. The only other significant change I noticed was Mrs. Meers not taking off her wig at the end of "They Don't Know." Again, a positive change, as her reason for doing that never made sense to me. She's much funnier, I think, if she at least pretends to maintain the chinese facade the entire time (even during the curtain call, when she's decked out in a prison uniform, she still is wearing her pseudo-Chinese getup). Gavin Creel's understudy, Brandon Wardell, is strong, and in no way inferior to Creel himself. Is Wardell better? I'm not sure. I think Wardell is superior in at least one way: He looks late 20s rather than early 20s, which instantly makes the Millie/Jimmy romance more believable. The audience sounded like they were having an extremely good time and gave the show a strong standing ovation, but I remain less than thoroughly convinced: While each performer has grown in his or her role, and the creators are on something approaching the right track, the show still drags in places, has some incorrect musical sequences ("Ain't No Prohibition on Romance" and "What Do I Need With Love?" bothered me less this time, but they're still broken moments desperately in need of repair. I'm more convinced now that the show is fixable, so there's a real possibility they can turn this around.
April 6 - There have been a tremendous number of changes in the past week, almost all of them for the better. Millie's first costume (having just arrived from Kansas) has changed from overalls to a yellow print dress. (So, of course, the costume of the young girl at the end is different, too--a blue and white checked gingham dress.) The title song is now staged in a much more sensible way. Millie is onstage from the beginning of the song, watching the Moderns, and learning the dance they're doing. She sings part of the song then vanishes, but reappears on the line "This is 1922" in her modern clothes, doing the dance with the Moderns full out. She also has a brief altercation with her purse snatcher afterwards that I didn't notice before. There is a possibility that Trevor and Jimmy have new costumes--the suit Marc Kudisch wore in his scene and the the suit Jimmy wore in the speakeasy/jail scene looked different to me, but I couldn't really place how. Mrs. Meers also exits stage right after "They Don't Know" instead of upstage. There must have been some other changes as well; I don't know what they all were, but the first act is now only one hour and fifteen minutes long. In the second act, "Ain't No Prohibition on Romance" is gone, replaced by a new song. (There was no program insert listing the new song, but I think it was called "Happy End" or something.) The song is much better, but still not great. It starts with a chorus of the six men singing solo, who are joined by Muzzy in the very upbeat number. After singing for a while, the stage revolves to reveal the kitchen while Muzzy and the men dance upstage. Millie and Jimmy are doing the dishes in the kitchen, but the dialogue has been trimmed a lot, and is much more effective now. Millie runs out, the stage revolves again, and Muzzy and the men finish their number. The next scene is also in Muzzy's dressing room, but the small scene with the couple who ask for her autograph has been excised. Only Muzzy, her maid, and Millie appear in this scene. The scene following "Gimme, Gimme," where Trevor is getting drunk, is now performed in-one (though still with the tables). Immediately after the scene, the traveler flies out to reveal Muzzy at the hotel behind. The second "chase" scene is also gone, with only a brief in-one scene to cover the change from the hotel to the laundry room (or whatever it is). Some of the Muzzy/Meers dialogue in that scene is cut (most notably, Muzzy's line about speaking Chinese), and the line where Meers figures out Muzzy's secret is much funnier and clearer now. Finally, after the curtain call and final bow, a new drop flies in depicting Bun Foo, Ching Ho, and their mother holding tiny American flags in front of the Statue of Liberty, bringing some sense of closure to their story as well.
April 13 - Again, there have been a tremendous number of changes in the show, and I'm not sure I was able to catch them all. I'm just not positive they've been all for the better this time. First, there seems to be yet another incarnation of the overture (I'm not sure I've heard the same one twice)--if my reckoning is correct, the new overture does not include a theme from "Jimmy," but has a long sequence from "Only in New York" near the beginning. The last part--the jazzy "Forget About the Boy" stuff--is the same. The overture still works, but it's different in tone, I think. There are also new costumes: Jimmy's first costume is now a powder blue suit, Millie has a new blue-green dress for her first scene in the hotel, and I think Muzzy has a new dress for her "undercover" scene near the end of the second act. Those are the only ones I was sure about, but there may have been other minor changes as well. There are also new lyrics: "They Don't Know" has changed again. I counted two new (small) sections to the song, and rather than ending on a big, dramatic finish, it ends with a softshoe. The song is more comic now, with Harriet Harris playing with a cigarette and overall having much more fun with the number, making the whole number quite different in tone. I'm still not sure it comes over exactly the way the creators intend it to (it's never completely landed for me), but Harris certainly seemed more comfortable with it. In fact, her character had been softened or refocused elsewhere as well, which made her seem more monstrous near the end. In places this works, in places it doesn't--it's harder to get into what she's doing at the beginning, she's less instantly likable/hatable. In fact, everyone seemed different in tone today. For the first time, Angela Christian looked quite comfortable and at ease with Miss Dorothy, getting lots of laughs and exit applause in surprising places; the dynamic between her and Millie, particularly in the first scene, was very different. Sutton Foster softened a few things, but is still pretty "hard" throughout (one frequent complaint on All That Chat that I think I agree with). But Ms. Foster had more colors today than I've seen in her before, so maybe she's merely continuing with the exploration of her role. If so, great. In terms of other changes: There is now a clean break between the end of Millie's second "Not For the Life of Me" and the first scene in the hotel. The girls still sing their part of the song, but they sing it ON the stage, rather than riding down in the elevator. Millie's list of bosses is gone, but the dialogue remains. "They Don't Know" now takes place entirely within the Hotel Priscilla, whereas Harriet Harris previously ended the song in her own mind (on the otherwise bare stage). The prison lineup scene remains but has been trimmed--Jimmy and Millie now take one photo each rather than three. Some lines (including the "Mr. Whoever You Are" joke in the scene after the prison scene have been cut. All the dialogue leading into "Only In New York" is gone. I THINK (but am not sure) there is some new dialogue in the window ledge scene. Millie flat-out tells Jimmy they aren't right for each other while washing dishes. The playoff after "Long As I'm Here With You" is gone. The scene change during "Gimme, Gimme" happens closer to the end of the song. Mrs. Meers no longer sings a reprise of "They Don't Know" after she's caught--in fact, she has no dialogue at all. She just slips out stage left, not even up the staircase. Then the girls arrive to announce that she's been captured, and basically the story's over. I was never really satisified with the show's resolution here, but I'm not sure if this was the best solution. Also, during the curtain call, she comes out in her regular costume instead of the prison outfit she wore earlier in previews. Overall, I thought Harris made less of an impact during the second act, though her scene with Sheryl Lee Ralph in disguise has never been funnier. Additionally, "Gimme, Gimme" has been toned WAY down. Maybe--I'm hoping--it was just this afternoon, but I was surprised at how restrained Ms. Foster was during that song. In some ways it worked, but it looked like she was working hard to pull back, and I'm not necessarily sure that's the right choice. But, then again, in addition to the softening of characters all around (which hit the real eccentrics--Marc Kudisch and Harriet Harris the hardest), they changed the curtain calls. There's more dancing now, but the walls never part to let Millie come out--she just sort of comes in from offstage.
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