Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Mrs. Miller Does Her Thing
Signature Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's reviews of Intelligence and Fickle: A Fancy French Farce


Kimberly Marable, Jacob ben Widmar, Debra Monk,
and Kaitlyn Davidson

Photo by Margot Schulman
Without Debra Monk, Mrs. Miller Does Her Thing, James Lapine's play with music receiving its world premiere production at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, would simply be an amiable look back at some of the odder cultural moments of the 1960s. Monk, a Tony Award-winning actress, brings heart, sincerity and pathos to a woman who easily could become a cruel caricature.

Lapine, who also directed, tells the (fictionalized) true story of a pop music phenomenon named Elva Miller, a 59-year-old California housewife who became an unlikely celebrity through her shrill, tone-deaf, but impassioned recordings of such songs as "Downtown," "Moon River," and "These Boots Are Made for Walkin.'" While audiences obviously laughed at Mrs. Miller (as everyone but her husband called her), she heard herself as the classically trained artist she believed she was. Monk uses her fine vocal technique to hit some previously unheard notes, but Lapine also allows the audience a few moments to hear Mrs. Miller as she thinks she sounds.

To place Mrs. Miller's adventures in context, Lapine has surrounded her with several supporting characters who represent different 1960s archetypes. There's Mrs. Miller's niece Joelle (Rebekah Brockman), who begins as a prim college freshman and discovers sex, pot, and social upheaval; Simon Bock (Corey Mach), a church choir director who becomes Mrs. Miller's producer; a jingle-singing trio consisting of a blonde beauty queen (Kaitlyn Davidson), an African-American woman (Kimberly Marable), and a gay aspiring choreographer (Jacob ben Widmar); and Will LeBow in several roles (and hairpieces).

Boyd Gaines, winner of four Tony Awards, gives an incisive performance in the small role of Mrs. Miller's husband, recovering from a stroke and not at all happy to hear about his wife's success. He doesn't like the changes he sees in society, and that goes for his wife as well.

Heidi Ettinger's scenic design seems simple at first but soon reveals a turntable and acting spaces concealed behind panels showing iconic images from the era (the Beatles in their Sgt. Pepper costumes, Bobby Kennedy, protesting hippies, Neil Armstrong standing on the moon). Jennifer Caprio's costumes are both evocative of the period and, in some cases, outrageous, specifically the dress Mrs. Miller wears on a USO tour of Vietnam with Bob Hope.

Signature Theatre
Mrs. Miller Does Her Thing
February 28th - March 26th, 2017
A play with music by James Lapine
Conceived by Mark Oliver Everett & James Lapine
Mrs. Elva Miller: Debra Monk
Mr. John Miller: Boyd Gaines
Joelle Taylor: Rebekah Brockman
Simon Bock: Corey Mach
Bobby Sherrin/Tiny Tim: Jacob ben Widmar
Carol Sue Singleton: Kaitlyn Davidson
Denise Banfield: Kimberly Marable
Larry Drummond, Dr. Shapiro, Ed Sullivan, Salesclerk, Photographer, Stoner, Reporter: Will LeBow
Dance Captain: Jacob ben Widmar
Choreography by Josh Prince
Directed by James Lapine
Music direction by Matt Hinkley
MAX Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: 703-820-9771 or 1-800-955-5566 or www.signature-theatre.org


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