Seen on Broadway:

Thoroughly Modern Millie

, the last new musical of the Broadway season, is based on the 1967 film of the same name, a kind of camp classic starring Julie Andrews as a breathless young flapper let loose in 1920s Manhattan. As in the film, the musical tracks the romances of Millie and her friend Miss Dorothy, with a subplot about a white slavery ring headed by Mrs. Meers, the girls’ landlady. The world wasn’t waiting for a new version of this material but, apparently, the intention was to create anew the kind of old-fashioned, up-tempo, girls-and-gags Broadway that audiences seem to want these days. Unfortunately, this is a thoroughly messed-up Millie. The book, by the late Richard Morris, who wrote the film, and Dick Scanlan, is a hodgepodge of low camp comedy scenes mixed with attempts at genuine romance and sentiment (I was amused by the rendition of the song “Mammy” in Cantonese, with English surtitles). It doesn’t help that Sutton Foster, a tough, competent performer, plays Millie as a hard, charmless golddigger. The design is a puzzler—the lighting, by Don Holder, fights the scenery by David Gallo, and the scenery fights the costumes by Martin Pakledinaz. (Jon Weston’s sound design is tactfully done). This is a trio of top-level names, so I’m betting that director Michael Mayer lost control of the project somewhere along the way. What’s missing is the key element in any musical—a sense of style that acts as a unifying element. (Oddly enough, such heavily criticized shows as Thou Shalt Not and Sweet Smell of Success were more successful in this regard). Audiences, apparently looking for an undemanding good time, are responding to the show, so a longish run is predicted, but this is far from anyone’s best work.--David Barbour

Meanwhile, Down the Block: I just love John Lee Beatty! I've often wanted to move right into his sets, and the one for Morning's at Seven is no exception. The current revival of Paul Osborn's charming play at the Lyceum Theatre (produced by the Lincoln Center Theatre Company and directed by Daniel Sullivan) features not one but two houses right there on the stage, creating a double backyard on a tree-lined street in a small Midwestern town. Jane Greenwood's costumes are as sweet as can be as well, hardly giving a hint to the troubles that lie ahead for Homer Bolton when he finally brings his girlfriend Myrtle Brown home to meet his odd little family. Brian MacDevitt (the current poster boy for beautiful lighting in America) has iced the cake with dappled daylight, moving from early-morning sun to late-night shadows. When the curtain goes up, the set gets applause and the audience says "Wow!" to the pastel houses with their lifelike landscaping and multiple doors and windows. It may be a little sugary for some people, but I found the design, the acting, and the direction just as tasty as the apple pie that's bound to come out of one of those houses any minute.--Ellen Lampert-Gréaux

Seen Off Broadway: Blue Surge is Rebecca Gilman’s latest examination of the way we live now. The play begins with a failed bust at a massage parlor. Curt, the cop in charge of the operation, is drawn to Sandy, one of the prostitutes—an attraction that sends his life into a downward spiral. As always, Gilman has a number of provocative things to say: this time, about the way money rules in our supposedly classless society. But in plays like Spinning Into Butter and Boy Gets Girl, she tied her commentary to strong dramatic situations. Here, nothing much happens—Curt spends a lot of time vacillating between Sandy and Beth, his strident fiancée—resulting in one dreary conversation scene after another. The cast is skillful, except perhaps for Amy Landecker, who can’t do much with Beth, her yuppie-from-Hell role. But the situation is simply not very compelling. Walt Spangler’s scenery, a series of wagons that reveal several seedy interiors, works well, and Birgit Rattenborg Wise’s costumes and Richard Woodbury’s sound both are helpful in creating a sense of time and place. The best work comes from Michael Phllippi, whose noirish lighting gives the action onstage a nice gritty-romantic look.--DB


Orfeo

Seen at the Opera: The Chicago Opera Theatre production of Claudio Monteverdi’s Orfeo, directed by Diane Paulus, sets the tragic action of the piece—based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice—at a chic cocktail party. It’s a concept that works brilliantly, as the action begins in festivity and continues through loss, tragic resignation, and, finally, spiritual enlightenment. Scott Pask’s spare white setting provides an ideal canvas for Michael Chybowski’s lighting, which uses strong angles and colors to constantly retransform the space. Special kudos to Meg Neville’s high-fashion costumes, especially those clever party masks; Neville can design my party outfits anytime…In Handel’s Agrippina, staged by Lillian Groag at New York City Opera, Roman history becomes bedroom farce, as the title character, the Empress of Rome, schemes to put her son on the throne. Since his name is Nero, we all know what a great idea that turned out to be. Anyway, the musical and theatrical treatment of this story is bright and witty, right up the finale, in which the surtitles advise us how every single character is destined for a bad end. John Conklin’s setting is very typical for him—a trio of periaktoi, plus other classical elements. If I had a nickel for every Conklin set that featured broken pieces of classical statuary, I would be retired and living in South Beach. At least this production is set in ancient Rome, so there’s a reason for it. Anyway, Mark McCullough’s lighting uses strong saturated color washes and careful architectural treatments to burnish the onstage look. Jess Goldstein’s high-fashion modern costumes are delightful, especially the series of dresses worn by Poppea, the opera’s universal lust object. Poppea is the kind of girl who can manage three men in a boudoir quite easily, and Goldstein’s dresses for her are knockouts.--DB

Heard From Hollywood: With the highly anticipated Spider-Man movie release just a week away, Marvel Comics fanatics can shift their attention to two other films now in production. The biggest buzz surrounds Universal Pictures' version of The Incredible Hulk called, simply, Hulk, and directed by Ang Lee, of high-flying Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame. Rising Australian star Eric Bana plays Dr. Bruce Banner and his alter-ego title character, who in more pumped-up moments will get a digital assist from Industrial Light and Magic. ILM visual effects supervisor is Dennis Muren, and the special effects makeup is by—you got it, Rick Baker. Director of photography on the film, which is shooting in Los Angeles and San Francisco, is Frederick Elmes, with production design by Rick Heinrichs and costumes by Marit Allen…The less well known Daredevil has its devotees, but the Twentieth Century Fox movie version looks more modest. (It's only budgeted in the $50-70 million range.) Ben Affleck plays the title superhero, rendered blind yet gifted with "radar sense" by exposure to radioactive waste. The director is Mark Steven Johnson, whose only previous credit helming a feature is Simon Birch. Barry Chusid, an art director on such films as Mystery Men, The 13th Floor, and The Patriot, is making his debut as a production designer, and Ericson Core is the cinematographer. Most interestingly, costume designer James Acheson, who can be seen on the Spider-Man website talking about his Spidey creations, has now moved on to a second consecutive Marvel crimefighter.--John Calhoun

Heard on the Internet: One of our spies attended a preview of Into the Woods last night and reported the following: “James Lapine came onstage to tell the audience that a number of costumes had been destroyed or damaged in yesterday's explosion, which I'm sure had you guys hopping. The costumes were housed in the building that exploded. He noted, though, that Susan Hilferty, her team, and the costumers had done their best to vamp, and it all looked good from where I was sitting.” He adds that one of the costumes, for the character of Milky White, the cow belonging to Jack (of Jack and the Beanstalk), sustained the heaviest damage…Seussical, the most critically reviled musical of last season, is going out on a national tour, starring Cathy Rigby as the Cat in the Hat. Christopher Ashley is the director, and the all-new design team includes James Kronzer (scenery), David C. Woolard (costumes), Howell Binkley (lighting) and Brian Ronan (sound). Good people all, and brave, I say. After all, Seussical chewed up and spit out a record number of designers. Catherine Zuber was let go out of town, to be replaced by William Ivey Long, whose costumes were among the most criticized of his career. Tony Walton eventually reworked Eugene Lee’s scenery. (Director Frank Galati left during tryouts as well). It will be very interesting to see if this new group of designers finds a way to translate the distinctive look of the Dr. Seuss books to the stage.--DB