When a community theater production needs to cast two characters who speak Chinese, there is always the fear that performers will overact to the point of offensiveness.
In “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” now at the Free Synagogue of Flushing Community Theatre Group through Sunday, writers insisted that the characters of brothers Ching Ho and Bun Foo be totally authentic and not portrayed in any stereotypical fashion.
Neither Clarence Ilanan nor Edwin A. Palacio, who play the characters, has ever spoken the language or are of Chinese descent, but each keeps their parts authentic with English subtitles flashed atop a high curtain.
“The company supplied us with CDs, enunciations and pronunciations,” said Ilanan. “I then had to observe the culture for the movements.”
They portrayed cohorts to Mrs. Meers (Angel Vail), a Chinese-appearing character who owns a rooming house for young actresses during the 1920s. Appearances being deceptive, she was a leader of a white slavery ring, shipping orphans, who tend to be alone, off to Hong Kong.
Vail appeared to be having a fabulous time portraying a villain — which she later revealed was the case. Going in and out of characters certainly made for quite amount of laughter, not to mention her attempts to speak with Ching Ho and Bun Foo.
Millie Dillmount (Mary Kate Carter) pops into town on her own looking to become independent and modern.
Forgetting the silly plot, this was one of the best productions I have seen at FSFCTG.
Maryellen Pierce has once again delivered in both her direction and co-choreography.
Both music and lyrics were added to the original movie musical, including a number called “The Speed Test” in which Mr. Graydon (Erik Neilson) tests Millie’s dictating speed as part of a job interview. It is a sort of rendition of “The Pirates of Penzance’s” “Modern Major General.” Millie’s reading it back simply adds to the faultless number.
Neilson is not new to FSFCTG. His role shows off both his singing and comic talents. Carter, on the other hand is one of a number of players who are new to the group.“I moved to Astoria and hearing about the production, decided to try out,” said Carter. “I felt as if I was introduced to a new family of support.” Which included a few old members of her family, her husband Andrew Murano portrays Jimmy Smith, Millie’s love interest. Whether acting or not, the two display perfect chemistry.
Cheers also to soprano Lisa Bondi (Miss Dorothy), also making her FSFCTG debut. Her duet with both Carter in “How The Other Half Loves” and “I’m Falling In Love With Someone” with Neilson, showed a smoothness as well as her harmonizing ability.
The major standout to the production was that each cast member was right on point with timing that had Sunday’s audience cheering throughout the entire performance.
Kudos goes to Musical Director Paul L. Johnson and the entire cast and crew for a production that should not be missed.
The final performances are Saturday, Nov. 15, 8 p.m., and Sunday Nov. 16, 3 p.m. Reserved seats may be purchased by calling (718) 428-8681.
As published in the Times Ledger.