Tuesday night the Pittsburgh CLO opened its final show of the season, Thoroughly Modern Millie at the Benedum Center for The Performing Arts in Pittsburgh and I have to say, I “thoroughly” enjoyed it from beginning to end.
Having seen the show several times, and knowing the book and the soundtrack nearly word for word, I went into the show with high expectations and high hopes. I was not disappointed.
The set and the costumes transported you back to the roaring 20s, as Millie Dillmount a self-proclaimed “modern” arrives in Manhattan from Kansas to make her way in the world. Along the way to meeting the boss/fiancé of her dreams, she meets an interesting cast of characters including Jimmy Smith, a playboy who seems more concerned with fun than having money.
Laurie Veldheer and Bobby Conte Thornton were both solid in the lead roles of Millie Dillmount and Jimmy Smith. Both were very vocally strong and I can honestly say having personally heard “Gimme Gimme” probably 200 times in my life, at least, that Veldheer can sing it with the best of them.
The duo was backed up by a solid ensemble and a cast of supporting actors who really gave some standout performances.
I had heard of the great performance Lenora Nemetz gave in this show at Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey when she also played Mrs. Meers to Veldheer’s Millie, so I was excited to see her perform. She had me from the first “Sad to be all alone in the world.” Nemetz, a Broadway veteran, gave an outstanding performance as the deliciously evil, washed up actress, pretending to be Chinese in order to hide from police and lure victims into her nefarious slave trade operation. In addition to making the audience laugh with her comedic skills, Nemetz blew the audience away with her performance of “They Don’t Know.”
Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress Leslie Uggams, Blind Al from “Deadpool” to you millennials, played the role of Muzzy Van Hossmere, a glamorous actress, and singer at a nightclub. Truth be told, in the past, I have never paid much attention to this character but Uggams was not to be ignored. She came onto the stage singing “Only In New York” and showed everyone in the audience exactly why she won a Tony. She received an extended ovation for her performance. Not only did she capture the role vocally but in the brief dressing room scene, the skilled actress took you from laughing to near tears in a matter of minutes. The scenes between Uggams and Nemetz were beyond delightful, watching two skilled masters go back and forth in character was something I will remember and cherish for a long time.
Another character I usually do not give much weight to is that of Miss Dorothy Brown. I must admit, I really enjoyed Jessica Fontana’s performance in the role. She is my favorite Miss Dorothy so far. I especially liked her performance of “I’m Falling In Love With Someone” with Paul Schaefer as Trevor Graydon. And then a highlight of any Millie production is the reprise of that song where Graydon and Brown are also joined by the characters of Dillmount and Smith. That number was everything I wanted it to be. Incredible harmonies by very gifted singers.
Schaefer’s performance of Graydon was top notch and one I will not soon forget. He and Veldheer expertly tackled the incredibly difficult number “The Speed Test” and throughout the production, his comedic timing and acting choices made the character almost show-stealing.
Aside from perhaps wanting a tiny bit more chemistry between Dillmount and Smith, the show was everything I wanted it to be from the beginning clear through the curtain call. It is definitely one if given the chance I would return to see again.
The show runs through Sunday, Aug. 12 and tickets can be purchased at pittsburghclo.org or at the box office at the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts.
Photos by Matt Polk
Linda Harkcom is a freelance writer whose writing has appeared in most newspapers in South Western Pennsylvania. She has covered the theatre seen in Westmoreland and Fayette County for almost 10 years. Having raised two actors, she is the author of DearTheaterMom.com where she gives advice to parents who have children in or thinking of entering the entertainment field. She is also the editor of WPAEntertainmentnews.com a new blog focusing on entertainment in Western Pennsylvania.