Theater & art

Stage Review

‘Millie’ kicks up her heels in a madcap mashup

Jessica Barstis as Millie and Nash Hightower as the Prince of Persia.
Michael von Redlich
Jessica Barstis as Millie and Nash Hightower as the Prince of Persia.

The most recent musical parody from Ryan Landry and the Gold Dust Orphans was last December’s “Jesus Christ, It’s Christmas!,” so perhaps it’s in an ecumenical spirit that they’ve turned to Islam for “Thoroughly Muslim Millie,” which promises “bawdy Burqa Ladies” and a “tap-dancing Taliban.” The show’s lighthearted poster, which shows a burqa-clad figure doing a grand jeté while brandishing pom-poms, brings to mind Shirley MacLaine’s cheerleader stint in the 1965 Middle East film spoof “John Goldfarb, Please Come Home!” But the character list, along with a “Prince of Persia,” includes former vice president Dick Cheney, his wife, Lynne, and their lesbian daughter, Mary, suggesting that right-wing America will be the real target of the Orphans’ satirical barbs.

Actually “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” the 1967 film and 2002 Broadway musical, contributes little more than a title to “Thoroughly Muslim Millie.” The show opens with a tiny Julie Andrews figurine emerging on the Orphans’ puppet stage to the strains of “The hills are alive”; within seconds she’s incinerated by a drone. The plot borrows from “The Sound of Music” and “The King and I,” but there are also musical references to “My Fair Lady,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” and “South Pacific,” and the members of the ensemble turn up in everything from burqas to Turkish trousers to “Star Wars” stormtrooper outfits.

Millie (Jessica Barstis), when she does appear, emulates Andrews’s Maria in a straw hat and flowered apron. She’s a nun in a Canadian convent, and, like Maria, she’s being sent out into the world — in this case “across the border” for a six-month “marriage” to the Prince of Persia (Nash Hightower) for reasons known only to the sisters, who kick up their heels to “It’s Millie who’s going to live among the Muslims.” The Reverend Mother, it turns out, is Dick Cheney (Larry Coen, who also directs); the Cheneys have converted their ski lodge into a makeshift convent, and their object is the trillions of dollars’ worth of oil under the Prince’s palace, or as Lynne Cheney (Olive Another) calls it, “the tower of tabbouleh.”

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Millie takes the scenic route to Persia, traveling via Greyhammed bus and stopping in Madrid, Barcelona, and Dublin to allow the Orphans to strut their stuff. Upon her arrival, she’s introduced to the Prince’s first wife, Bruta (Landry in a black burqa and heavy eye makeup), and his twin sister, “16-going-on-17” Diesel (Liza Lott). The Prince, channeling Yul Brynner in “The King and I,” explains that Millie is to teach his 17 children and denies her the house she was promised, so when he gives her a copy of “Quran for Dummies,” she responds by singing “Anything Muslims Do, Catholics Do Better.”

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A camouflage-suited Mary Cheney (Tim Lawton) blows in and promptly falls for Diesel, pausing long enough to sing “Near the Mosque Where You Live.” Dick and Lynne hire Russian torture expert Natasha (Penny Champayne) to make the Prince reveal the location of his oil, and after a dismaying amount of carnage, Millie returns home, hoofing, in bowler and fishnets, to “Take Me Back to New Brunswick.”

The Orphans are at their outrageous best in a show that runs just under two hours and is most definitely not for children. Barstis is a squeaky-voiced, irrepressible delight. Olive Another has a musical highlight in “As long as Dick needs me, I’ll love that S.O.B.” She also has some of the best lines: She describes the Prince’s palace as “‘I Dream of Jeannie’ meets Bernie and Phyl,” and when she’s made to remove her convent habit, she apologizes for her outfit, saying, “It’s only Michael Kors.”

There’s no end of costumes, all dizzyingly inventive. The set includes a Blue Mosque, palm trees, a minaret skyline, and a helicopter that “Miss Saigon” could only envy. The pre-show musical selections include “Midnight at the Oasis,” “Ahab the Arab,” and “Arabian Nights.”

It was announced last week that Landry is the winner of this year’s Elliot Norton Award for Sustained Excellence. “Thoroughly Muslim Millie” puts that excellence on view for everyone to see.

Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at jeffreymgantz@gmail.com.