Thoroughly Modern Millie Music by Jeanine Tesori; lyrics by Dick Scanlan; Book by Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan
Performance length: about 2 and ½ hrs. with a 15-minute intermission
SET DESIGN: Medium
COSTUME DESIGN: Medium
CAST POTENTIAL: Principal and chorus roles both offer opportunities to highlight a strong female casting pool (though, there are good parts for men, too).
CROWD REACTION: This comic send-up of the roaring twenties is funny, accessible, and catchy. Thus it’s outstanding success in the regional and community theatre markets.
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SUMMARY: Set during the roaring twenties, Thoroughly Modern Millie is about Millie, a naïve girl from Kansas who moves to New York to become a “thoroughly modern” woman. Donning the style and spunk of a flapper, Millie seeks to make her way by marrying rich. She gets a job at Sincere Trust Insurance Company as a typist and sets her eyes on her pompous employer Mr. Trevor Graydon, but her dreams of becoming thoroughly modern are compromised when she falls for the fun-loving, yet not extravagantly rich, Jimmy. Marry for love or for money? What’s a girl to do!?
CASTING CONSIDERATIONS: The strengths of this show are irrevocably linked to the energy and charisma of your cast. They should have an impeccable sense of slapdash, tongue-in-cheek humor, always erring on the silly over the subtle. Big voices are a must, especially for the role of Millie, whose “Not for the Life of Me,” and “Gimme Gimme” devour the stage.
Some audience members will be potentially offended by the stereotypical presentation of the two Chinese henchmen, Ching Ho and Bun Foo, who, if their names are any indication, are reminiscent of Mickey Rooney’s flagrantly offensive Mr. Yunioshi from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Given that this is pastiche, it may be that these characters are ironic representations of stereotypes found in the original Thoroughly Modern Millie film. Even so, approach with caution. The actors portraying these characters should be sensitive to the thin line they tread. Make sure the audience laughs, not at the characters, but because they love them.
SCENIC CONSIDERATIONS: Again, since this is pastiche, the set and costumes should recreate only the most obvious and stereotypical qualities of the roaring twenties. From Ben Brantley’s review of the Broadway version: “David Gallo’s Deco-flavored set turns the Manhattan skyline into a candy-store window display. Martin Pakledinaz’s flapper costumes seem to be operating on the principle that you should never use pink without combining it with purple. And Donald Holder’s lighting keeps layering on more colors like frosting on a kid’s birthday cake.” Though not every production need to recreate the original Broadway production, Brantley’s description of the scenery exhibits the essential tone of the piece: bright, cartoonish, and addictive.
PERSONAL REFLECTIONS: Thoroughly Modern Millie is a return to the musical comedy format of shows like Guys and Dolls or How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, where style beats substance and form dictates content. The package is what is most important with the musical, especially since the plot is razor thin and wraps up wildly like a Dickens novel. But it is a vast improvement from the Julie Andrews Oscar-winning film because it emphasizes what musical comedies seem to do best. It provides a high voltage experience for its audience. It gives them big numbers, flashy dances, and flippant humor, which will leave the audience singing “Gimme Gimme” all the way home.