The Kelly Critics is a joint program of the Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh CLO's Gene Kelly Awards for Excellence in High School Musicals, in which students at Kelly schools review musicals at other Kelly schools.
As I was pulled along through Pine Richland High School's bustling auditorium by my friend (a native Pine-Richlander herself, I didn't know what to expect from their spring musical “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” I hadn't heard of the show before, and I only had the knowledge of a few short paragraphs from Wikipedia I read on the ride over.
There was no way I could possibly foresee the quirky plotline, whimsical music numbers, and truly laugh-out-loud humor that ensued after the curtain rose. Millie Dillmount, played by Alexis Loiselle, is a young, wayward ex-Kansan who travels to New York ready to embrace the "modern" flapper lifestyle of the 1920s. Loiselle owned the role; her strong and impulsive character was lovable but contentious -- a wonderful equation for Millie. Not to mention, she fit that iconic Millie silhouette on the poster so well that it was almost scary.
Two voices in particular in Pine Richland’s “Millie” were unquestionably outstanding: Abby Dionise, who played Miss Dorothy, and Jillian Schmidt, who played Muzzy Van Hossmere. Dugan was refreshingly sweet, while Schmidt was mature and luxurious with qualities that made me nostalgic for a time period I never lived in. I really wish the roles allowed me to hear more from them.
I was apprehensive at first about the "Mrs. Meers" character played by Izzy Salpietro. A washed-up actress who takes on the role of a meek Chinese lady, Mrs. Meers manages a hotel for single women and secretly makes a living by selling them into slavery. I say apprehensive because she is traditionally represented through offensive Chinese stereotypes (and, y'know, the whole slavery thing). However, Salpietro's incredibly talented and hilarious portrayal of her double life - and strong voice to boot - dissipated my doubts immediately. She wasn't afraid to add additional humor to the role, and her faux accent was perfectly terrible (a great quality for her character). And I will forever favor her Mrs. Meers over any of the others on YouTube that I looked up afterwards.
Actually, all of the characters in Pine Richland's musical were impeccably well cast. The students had a certain personality that they brought to their characters, which made their performance authentic and enjoyable. I don't think I could see “Millie” anywhere else without longing for these talented high school performers to play the parts.
Some of the sets were lacking (a few were just a vague backdrop), but others blew me away. I need to mention the intricacy of their Priscilla Hotel lobby; I was regrettably guilty of staring at the wonderful elements of that lobby - the colors (red, black, and white), the signs, and especially the elevator - because it drew some of my attention away from the actors! And there was also that gorgeous, gold and black Gatsby-esque backdrop that they used for Muzzy's Cafe Society. Not only did it look captivatingly three-dimensional, but when the dancers came out in gold and black costumes to match, the whole scene took my breath away in its grand, aesthetic entirety.
Which reminds me, of course, I have to mention those costumes. I lost count of all the fabulous dresses I saw that night, from floral to flapper. They were all very reminiscent of the 1920s, yet in a refreshing way. The vintage element that accompanies “Millie” doesn't feel old and drab, but like an entirely new style that just happened to previously exist.
At first, I thought the relationships came together in the end just a little too fast and a little too conveniently (I won't spoil it for you, don't worry). But after thinking about it, I realized it couldn't have concluded better -- a perfectly ridiculous ending to a perfectly ridiculous story. It was the prevalence of humor that made “Millie” shine, and it wouldn't have been quite the same experience without the comic relief. There were plenty of those moments where the entire audience, including myself, just erupted with laughter, which was the best, most fulfilling feeling ever.
All in all, Pine Richland’s “Thoroughly Modern Millie” was -- wait for it -- a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Reviews are edited by senior theater critic Christopher Rawson. For more high school musicals coverage, go to http://www.post-gazette.com/ae/theater-dance/ and scroll down.