Review: Thoroughly Modern Millie Jr. at Children’s Playhouse of Maryland

By Jennifer Gusso

Running Time: 1 hour 50 minutes with one intermission

From the moment Millie Dillmount (Rachel Miller) appears on stage, bright-eyed and full of hope, in front of a New York City skyline and starts to sing, there is no doubt that the audience is in for a treat. From beginning to end, the cast of Thoroughly Modern Millie Jr. at Children’s Playhouse of Maryland, Directed by Liz Boyer Hunnicutt, with Music Direction by Charlotte Evans, and Choreography by Amanda Poxon, never fails to delight and to demonstrate that young people are incredibly capable of stunning vocals, intricate dance routines, and nuanced, mature acting performances. The entire ensemble of young people does an amazing job of bringing this fun and funny musical to life.

The ensemble of Thoroughly Modern Millie Jr. Credit: CPM, Inc. Facebook Page

Setting the stage (literally) for their success are Diane Smith’s set design and Laura Miller’s scenic art. A combination of projection and cleverly-designed set pieces lead to seamless transition between a variety of locations. Coupled with a beautiful light design at the hands of Ed Lake, the audience is transported to the various locations, including a window ledge over the city. The total transformation of the actors to another place and time is completed with careful costume design by Sharon Byrd.

Of course, all of the set and costumes truly sizzle to life due to the brilliant direction of the creative team. Hunnicutt, Evans, and Poxon don’t back away from challenging the young performers to push themselves and have clearly prepared them well to be ready for the leap. The scenes shows careful comedic timing and character work; the music comes to life with solid and consistent harmonies; and the dance is just “WOW.” Poxon clearly has a gift. From flappers to tappers, every big dance number is unique and creative and the entire cast falls into lockstep with each other. These three ladies truly provided the foundation that allows these young performers to shine.

Rachel Miller as Millie Dillmount and Matthew Trulli as Trevor Graydon. Credit: CPM, Inc. Facebook Page

From small roles to large, shine is exactly what they do. From the very first dance number, the ensemble makes their mark. Front and center in that first number and standing out with her boundless energy and infectious smile is Evelyn Acerno. The ensemble continues to impress in a variety of roles as stenographers, boarding house residents, and other New Yorkers. Two other young ladies that really stand out in every ensemble scene and number are Ava Corelli and Angela Boeren. At every moment, they are selling the choreography and reacting appropriately in character.

Speaking of characters, this show is full of them! Sophia Possidente (Miss Flannery) is an absolute hoot. She creates a zany character who still comes across as real. Her comic reactions to the lines of others are also well-timed and sophisticated. Also showing just the right mix of crazy and restrained are the hilarious performances of Matthew Byrd and Allison Naglieri as Ching Ho and Bun Foo. Byrd was especially endearing in his quest for love. The pair also had excellent comic banter with Mrs. Meers (Emily Ricci). Ricci has a commanding presence on stage and delivered a stellar performance.

In the role of Miss Dorothy, Heidi Thiessen was the perfect ingénue. She exudes natural innocence. Will Foohey (Jimmy Smith) and Matthew Trulli (Trevor Graydon) both brought a warmth and natural likeability to the two male leads. Trulli was especially entertaining in the scene after being stood up at a restaurant, and Foohey did a solid job of showing Jimmy’s growth throughout the show. That trio especially excelled when they were singing. Each of them had a beautiful tone quality and evident vocal training. Those three voices, combined with that of Millie herself, in “I Turned a Corner” created an especially touching musical moment.

Rachel Miller as Millie Dillmount. Credit: CPM, Inc. Facebook Page

As wonderful as every aspect of this production was, it would be nothing without the perfect Millie – and that’s exactly what they had in Rachel Miller. Miller was the perfect balance of sweet and stubborn. She created a character who came alive in the cracks between her contradictions. A clearly capable dancer, she led and commanded the big dance scenes. Miller also has a beautiful belt but also this throaty quality to her voice that makes it both reminiscent of other famous stage belts and yet also uniquely her own. She wore the vocal score and the role like a glove, as if it had been written especially for her.

This production proves yet again that there is nothing “just” about children’s theatre. Everything about this production was delightful, and it could easily compete with any adult production in the area. Go see Thoroughly Modern Millie Jr. at Children’s Playhouse of Maryland, and you will not be disappointed!

This is what I thought of Children’s Playhouse of Maryland’s production of Thoroughly Modern Millie Jr… what did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Thoroughly Modern Millie Jr. will play through December 16 at Children’s Playhouse of Maryland, at The Community College of Baltimore County, Administration Building, 7201 Rossville Boulevard, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call 410-443-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

Like Backstage Baltimore on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter (@BackstageBmore) and Instagram (BackstageBaltimore)

Review: Always Patsy Cline at Dundalk Community Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
patsycline09_page
Running Time: 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission

Tiffany Walker Porta Burrows as Patsy Cline and Maribeth Vogel as Louise Seger. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre

Tiffany Walker Porta Burrows as Patsy Cline and Maribeth Vogel as Louise Seger. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre


Jukebox musicals can be a tricky entity, but Dundalk Community Theatre’s current production, Always Patsy Cline, Directed by Eric Potter seamlessly stitches together old Patsy Cline songs to create a delightful piece of nostalgia. With Music Direction by Charlotte Evans, Costume design by Larry Munsey, and Set, Lighting, and Sound Design by Marc W. Smith this production is near flawless and brings the iconic Patsy Cline back to life for an evening of pure country music and a glimpse into a fan’s dream come true.
Tiffany Walker Porta Burrows as Patsy Cline and Maribeth Vogel as Louise Seger. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre

Tiffany Walker Porta Burrows as Patsy Cline and Maribeth Vogel as Louise Seger. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre


Walking into the John E. Ravekes Theatre, I was transported to a bygone era and the original Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium. Veteran Technical Director Marc W. Smith’s Set Design is exquisite and downright accurate with a painted barn and bandstand. Smith’s attention to detail is also apparent in the other two smaller settings of a Texas dance hall with tables and a jukebox and a small 1960s kitchen with an old Frigidaire and pastel colored dishes. All of his sets are authentic and well designed adding great value to this production.
Smith also takes on the duties of Lighting & Sound Design which compliments the Set Design nicely. His Lighting Design is simple, yet sets the mood for each number and is antithetic for each setting, giving a clear separation. The design is well thought-out and executed beautifully.
Being a musical, Sound Design must always be handled delicately, finding a balance between the orchestra or band and the actors who are singing. Smith’s design finds this balance for a brilliant sound throughout the production.
Tiffany Walker Porta Burrows as Patsy Cline and Maribeth Vogel as Louise Seger. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre

Tiffany Walker Porta Burrows as Patsy Cline and Maribeth Vogel as Louise Seger. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre


Costume Design by Larry Munsey is superb, matching many well-known Patsy Cline costumes and style. Putting an actress up on the stage to play a real person is difficult, but Munsey’s costume choices are impressive. He not only costumes Ms. Cline well, his design for the other character, Lois, is also well-thought out, creating a down-to-earth, friendly 1960s Texas gal who likes to have a good time. Did I mention hair? Well, the hair was very authentic for both Patsy Cline and Lois, with their bouffants and high dos. Kudos to Munsey on his authentic and fun Costume Design.
Most of the songs presented in Always Patsy Cline are well known Cline hits, including “Back in Baby’s Arms,” “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “I Fall to Pieces,” and “Crazy.” Music Director Charlotte Evans does a superb job bringing these songs back to the stage and has the band swinging with the upbeat numbers and keeping a steady beat for the ballads and even providing vocal backup where needed. It’s always difficult with a jukebox musical because, these are the songs folks are accustomed to hearing certain way and Evans does not disappoint. All of the numbers sound like the original recordings and the band, consisting of Charlotte Evans on Piano, Corey Chubb on Electric Guitar, Randy Austin, Jr. on Sleep Lap Guitar, Greg Bell on Bass, Alani Sugar on Fiddle, and Joe Pipkin on Drums produce a good old fashioned honky tonk, rock-a-billy sound.
Tiffany Walker Porta Burrows as Patsy Cline and Maribeth Vogel as Louise Seger. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre

Tiffany Walker Porta Burrows as Patsy Cline and Maribeth Vogel as Louise Seger. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre


Directing a biographical piece can be challenging but Director Eric Potter seems to have tackled this challenge to create a successful and nostalgic piece giving a little insight into Cline through stories told by a fan-turned-friend in the late 50s through the rest of Cline’s life. Potter’s vision is clear as he presents Patsy Cline as the absolute star she was. He keeps the action moving nicely, giving the story a good flow, and the transitions from one song to the next is seamless. His understanding of the script and subject matter is apparent and his production does not mock, but celebrates the life of this gone-to-soon icon.
Tiffany Walker Porta Burrows as Patsy Cline and Maribeth Vogel. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre

Tiffany Walker Porta Burrows as Patsy Cline. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre


As for the performance of this piece, Tiffany Walker Porta Burrows as Patsy Cline and Maribeth Vogel as Lois Seger are forces of nature on the stage and bring Patsy Cline back to life with gusto and respect.
Though portraying a once living, famous person can be quite difficult, Tiffany Walker Porta Burrows is a standout as Patsy Cline and really understands her character. Her voice is as impressive, smooth, and clear as the real Patsy Cline and she is comfortable and confident with each and every song. Though Cline was a country music superstar, it’s reported she was very down-to-earth, as well, and Burrows portrays this brilliantly in her scenes with Maribeth Vogel, with whom she has a great chemistry and ease. She gives a very strong performance and is believable with every step and every note she sings.
Maribeth Vogel as Louise Seger. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre

Maribeth Vogel as Louise Seger. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre


Maribeth Vogel as super-fan Lois Seger is likable from the moment she steps on stage. Vogel expresses her affection and love for Cline clearly and gives such a natural performance that makes me feel like she’s my next door neighbor telling me the story of her encounter with her idol. She is very comfortable interacting with the audience, as she does throughout the performance, and she sets the audience at ease. She has a strong presence onstage and her comedic timing is on point, making for a very successful and delightful performance.
Final thought… Patsy Cline is an undisputed icon in the entertainment industry and her legacy must be handled delicately but Dundalk Community Theatre manages to bring her back to life with grace, dignity, and a bit of humor. If you’re a Patsy Cline fan, as I am, you will not be disappointed and if you are unfamiliar with this velvet-voiced songstress, this production would be the perfect introduction.
Have a different viewpoint? What did you think? We’d love to hear from you! Feel free to comment below!
 Always, Patsy Cline will play through November 6 at The Community College of Baltimore County, Dundalk Campus, John E. Ravekes Theatre. For tickets, call the box office at 443-840-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.