The Jazz Age is running at full tilt at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, where Thoroughly Modern Millie is onstage through Oct. 21. The musical, with book by Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan, new lyrics by Dick Scanlan and new music by Jeanine Tesori, is based on the 1967 Universal Pictures film of the same name.
The Studio C Performing Arts production, directed by Jeffrey Scott Parsons, stars the fabulous Colette Peters as Millie Dillmount, a small-town go-getter who lands in New York City with her sights set on a new life. That means landing a job, which, to Millie, means snagging a wealthy boss to marry. The year is 1922 and she’s a “modern,” after all, from her fresh-cut bob to her ripped-up return ticket home.
Millie has barely stepped off the bus when she gets mugged. Then she bumps into a guy named Jimmy Smith who tells her to go back home. (Nick Tubbs is perfectly cast as the lovable rascal Jimmy.) Millie persists and heads to the Hotel Priscilla for young women, run by the dubious Mrs. Meers. (Stephanie Lesh-Farrell making the most of an unsympathetic role.)
Millie meets the other boarders, including the upper-crust Dorothy Brown (the wonderful Bryce Hamilton), lands a job and falls for her boss, Mr. Graydon (the charming Brent Ramirez). One night, Millie runs into Jimmy again. He introduces her to New York nightlife, including the socialite chanteuse Muzzy Van Hossmere (the great Monica Quinn). Soon, Millie finds herself falling for Jimmy, throwing her whole plan out of whack.
This is the part of Thoroughly Modern Millie that’s easy to love. The romance and humor are uplifting. The singing and dancing (choreographed by Keenon Hooks) are pitch-perfect, and the costumes capture the era with panache. Seth Kamenow designed and Thomas Brown built the set that ingeniously switches from steno pool to speakeasy and more.
But then there is the other part of Thoroughly Modern Millie: the subplot in which Mrs. Meers, who is disguised as a Chinese woman, kidnaps young women to sell them into “white slavery.” This part of the story, with its caricatures and insensitivities, gives the play a darkness it doesn’t deserve. (Millie is so lovable without it.) In his director’s notes, Parsons writes, “As we laugh at who we were as a country, we’re able to laugh at who we’re still trying to be. . . . What we can celebrate, however, is what we all know to be timeless: ‘Green Glass Love.’ ” In the play, “green glass love” translates to real love, which is a sentiment the rest of the musical embodies wholeheartedly.
Perhaps it helps a little to know that the good guys prevail in the end. In Thoroughly Modern Millie, the old-fashioned concept of love conquering all is the most timely of all.
Thoroughly Modern Millie through Oct. 21 at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, 3050 E. Los Angeles Ave., Simi Valley. For tickets and more information, call 805-583-7900 or visit simi-arts.org.