Review: Thoroughly Modern Millie cast steps up to the plate with talent and class

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Review by Jim Anderson

Talk about “thoroughly modern”, ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’, presented by students and staff of Shorecrest High School (playing through next weekend), launches the audience into the persistently dizzying period of young adult life fraught with social and emotional peril still latent in the ‘thoroughly modern’ world.

Millie Dillmount of Salina Kansas (played by Alegra Batara) leaves it all behind for the big city and, after initially discovering its thrilling welcome, is left tangling before the audience only somewhat aware of the credible threats facing her that are as contemporary as 2016.

Set in the ‘Roaring’ 1920’s, her fellow characters, buoyed by the inevitable naiveté of youth, bravely take on and triumph over personal and social issues that encounter youth of every generation. The cast deftly portrayed that clumsy innocence and, as the show progresses, subtly turned that perilous simplicity into their own personal entrepreneurial adventure.

Alegra Batera’s lead character Millie takes command from the beginning and Batera never lets up. In one of the opening scenes she encounters her would-be hero and deftly challenges his vanity by deliberately tripping him on a downtown sidewalk. She closes the show a much matured character and one ultimately triumphant.

What was then called ‘White Slavery’, and still lamentably present as sex trafficking, was infused into the story by one of the best villains ever, ‘Mrs. Meers’, played by Angela Rozema. Rozema’s villainous portrayal was entirely flexible throughout the show, moving from tragic to funny to scheming and, ultimately (as is deserving of every villain) defeated.

Her character exploits two sidekicks, ‘Ching Ho’ and ‘Bun Foo’ (played respectively by Niko Hudecek and Zach Gordon-Sandweiss).

These two actors delicately develop as villains and one portrays great innocence in taking his character in an unlikely direction in this version of the story. But the two portray how big promises from low people in large cities can exploit those made vulnerable by language and economic disadvantage.

From ‘Jimmy Smith’ (played by Gabe Ponce) and ‘Mr. Trevor Graydon’ (played by Devin Dickerson) to brothers ‘Ching Ho’ and ‘Bun Foo’, each of the male leads loudly speak to what it takes to develop into real men. Gabe Ponce navigates one of the largest dramatic transformations in the show by portraying a schemer who turns into a most accessible hero.

Clearly not content to be hindered in his role as a masterful manager and would-be lover, Devin Dickerson makes his character into the biggest and tallest short man on the stage. Dickerson makes himself a case study in talent, presence and staging.

His character and ‘Miss Dorothy Brown’ (Miranda LaFond) rocket into a delightful and talented and hilarious rhetorical and theatrical and even athletic romp back and forth across the stage. LaFond almost hides her character only to pounce upon lines with great emotion or humor, which in turn make the scenes’ other characters more transparent and better understood.

No one, it seemed, was content to play small roles. While that could seem like a recipe for chaos among some youth, it wasn’t. Teamwork was clearly evident as each role was played with a sincere quest to fully play each part. At one point, when some prop was about to crash to the ground, a natural awareness caught the need and the catch was discreet and uneventful.

Every role was a dancing role and it was fun to watch as nearly everything was perfect. Even those missteps visible to the pickiest of observers were minimized by a natural selflessness – and those smiles!

‘Muzzy’s Boys’ (Nathan Nzanga, Trey Bohag and Simon Shumacher) were on top of every move, smiling because not only were they having fun, but because they had clearly put in the work to create that unmistakable blend of skill and familiarity and teamwork.

As well, the ‘working staff’ of big bank stenographers (Jaden Batara, Julianne Oshiro, Addy Bohag, Melvina Fletcher, Olivia Wilkinson, Catherine Lavy, Sarah Kaino and Amalya Benhaim) danced with a set of props that made everything done at Sincerely Trust eye-poppingly interesting.

Speaking of interesting, two roles were carried out flawlessly that most keenly freed the entire cast of characters from being just ‘dumb kids in the big city’ to being ‘fortunate souls discovering life’: ‘Mrs. Flannery’ (played by Molly Peterson) transitioned smoothly from being predictably oppressive to stunningly fun and lively, and ‘Muzzy Van Hossmere’ (Kat Rodriguez) bolted from her first appearance on the stage as a dynamic presence assuring any soul in that theater that life was worth living and that comfort and help was never far away.

The great gymnastic talent was pulled off naturally as cartwheels and splits and leaps were not presented as tricks, but that which highlighted or elevated their scenes. The show offers something for everyone. Even the costumes became characters, unfolding from scene to scene, keeping pace with complexities of plot and character development. Hundreds of varied and amazing costume pieces avoid the common pitfall of overstating the time period while remaining accurate for the period.

The actors took full advantage of such ‘ordinary things’ like lighting and sound and props, neatly managed by those out-of-view. Language becomes another ‘character’ in the play with well-carried Chinese dialogues between characters ‘Ching Ho’ and ‘Bun Foo’. Clever management of displayed translations between Chinese and English even manages to add humor to at least one scene.

Music carries great musicals and no exception could be found here. The thankless task of an orchestra is to create the backdrop for every scene and not ‘be seen’. Obscured only by an elegant interpretation of the musical score and their professional demeanor, it’s obvious why Shorecrest’s music department bears its strong reputation.

 One of the jobs of a director is to brag in the program about how good the show is going to be. Andy Kidd could not have done these students justice.

They more than stepped up to the plate and out-did their director's praise in showing talent and even class. From the musicians to actors, singers and dancers, I had to remind myself repeatedly that these were indeed high school kids doing such a great job.

This is perhaps the best $15 ticket in the area and seats should sell out next weekend. I don’t sit well for presentations and this show made me happier with that than I have been for years.


Shorecrest Drama's musical Thoroughly Modern Millie will run from Thursday, May 19, through Sunday, May 22. Performance times are 7:30pm on Wednesdays-Saturdays, and 2:00pm on Sunday.

Tickets are $15 at the door, or $12 when reserved in advance. Reserve tickets online with the option to either receive your tickets by mail or at will-call on the day of the performance.

The Shorecrest Performing Arts Center is at the north end of the Shorecrest campus, 15343 25th Ave NE, Shoreline 98155.

Rehearsal photos courtesy Shoreline Schools.


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