Two of Broadway's best arrive
'Thoroughly Modern Millie,' 'Mark Twain Tonight!' staged
The hit musical Thoroughly Modern Millie will be staged today through
Sunday at the Stranahan Theater.
By NANCIANN CHERRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
A caustic sage and a wide-eyed innocent bring two certified Broadway
hits to Toledo stages this week.
The Valentine Theatre presents Mark Twain Tonight!, starring Hal Holbrook,
for one show at 8 p.m. Saturday, and Theater League opens a six-show
run of Thoroughly Modern Millie at 8 tonight in the Stranahan Theater.
In the latter, the title character is played by Alex Ellis, who, in
a telephone interview from Little Rock, Ark., sounds as excited about
life as her alter ego does on stage.
The play, she says, was inspired by the 1967 movie starring Julie Andrews.
"It's a romantic comedy, and it's really, really fun. The play
actually just uses just a little bit of the material from the movie
and kind of makes its own thing," Ellis says.
Thoroughly Modern Millie opened on Broadway in April, 2002, and ran
for more than 900 performances, winning six Tony Awards, including best
musical and best actress.
It centers on Millie Dilmount, who moves from a small town in Kansas
to New York City sometime in the 1920s, in search of wealth and security.
She gets a job as a typist for an insurance firm, and finds what she
thinks she wants in the persona of her boss, Trevor Graydon.
It takes a lot of machinations in the paper-thin plot for Millie to
realize that love is more important to her, and Jimmie Smith is the
man she really wants.
"It's kind of like The Wizard of Oz," Ellis says. In addition
to making some good friends in the city, including one named Dorothy,
there's sort of a good witch and a bad witch, the former being Muzzy
Van Hossmere, "a very Zsa Zsa-like nightclub singer," and
the latter being Mrs. Meers, the owner of a boarding house for single
women, who has a hidden agenda.
Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan "only took like two songs from
the movie, so all of the music is very new. There are flashy costumes
- we actually use some of the original Broadway costumes - and the dance
numbers are really fun, real 1920s Charleston, that kind of stuff."
If Millie is living her dream, Ellis is as well. The starring role
on the national tour is her first professional job after having graduated
from Elon University near Greensboro, N.C., last spring.
The young woman says she could not have chosen a better school to prepare
for her career.
"A lot of casting directors and composers and Broadway people
come down from New York and give master classes or hold auditions; people
from summer stock come to Elon to audition our classes, and the seniors
every year get to audition for some casting directors in New York.
"The acting directors gave me some songs and some scenes to learn
before I went up to New York [to audition for 'Millie], my voice teacher
and my acting coach just sat with me for days and days and we got it
Ellis says that about 1,000 women auditioned for the female roles in
the show, so she didn't know what to expect. "I sang my heart out,
and afterwards I was like, if I don't get this, that's OK because I
gave them everything I had."
But afterwards, Ellis said she had a sign that she might have gotten
"My mom was there with me, and she was going to treat me to a
show and a nice dinner. So we're at Wicked, standing in line, and she
had me go get her a Starbucks. I'm walking down 51st Street all by myself.
This is New York and there's like nobody else on the street EXCEPT I
walk right by Sutton Foster [who won the Tony Award for best actress
for Millie]. I just like took it as a sign."
The next morning, she got the call that she had the role.
Although she's been on tour since September, Ellis says she's not tired
of the role.
"I love the two hours I'm on stage. I give the audience 120 percent
every performance. We all do. This is a great company, we all get along,
and we all love the show."
"I can't see how anyone wouldn't.
Thoroughly Modern Millie runs today-Sunday in the Stranahan Theater,
4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. Performances are 8 p.m. today and tomorrow,
2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets range from $33.50
to $42.50. Information: 419-381-8851.
Mark Twain Tonight!
In 1966, Hal Holbrook won the Tony Award for best actor for portraying
Mark Twain in a one-man show conceived and written by him, with help
from Twain, of course.
Forty years later, he's still at it. Mark Twain Tonight! opens Saturday
in the Valentine Theatre.
In an interview with The Blade in 2001, Holbrook explained that he
has no problem keeping the character fresh.
"What I do is select material from Twain that I think has something
to say about what's going on today. There's so much of it - a regular
gold mine - so there's no problem trying to find some for a commentary,"
The show grew out of an honors project at Denison University in Granville,
Ohio, from which the Cleveland native graduated in 1948. Holbrook and
his first wife, Ruby, created a two-person show depicting several characters,
from Shakespeare to Twain. Holbrook later refined it into a one-man
show, and Mark Twain Tonight! opened off-Broadway in 1959. He's been
playing the character, off and on, ever since, with three visits to
Broadway, the most recent being last June.
Not that Holbrook is resting on his laurels. He and his wife, Dixie
Carter, just finished a run of the two-person play Southern Comfort
in Fort Lauderdale.
Mark Twain Tonight is scheduled at 8 p.m. Saturday in the Valentine
Theatre, 400 North Superior St. Tickets are $38 to $59. Seating is extremely
limited. Information: 419-242-2787.