Some thought it was chic and adorable, others thought it was odd and Sodom and Gomorrah-ble, or so goes the title song from the musical Thoroughly Modern Millie.
The Roaring ‘20s was the decade of bobbed hair, jazz music, and going against societal norms. It was about sneaking a quick drink in the speakeasy, and smoking cigarettes out of those long filters.
After the long-battled suffragette movement, and the First World War, women were starting to liberate themselves in a different manner –– raising their skirts and their fists at the establishment.
Set in 1922 New York, Thoroughly Modern Millie, which will be presented by the Vernon Community Music School’s Lights of Broadway at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre May 6 and 7, captures those times in song, costume and story.
It first saw life as a 1967 film starring Julie Andrews, and was translated to the stage as a Broadway musical in 2002, winning six Tony awards, including Best Musical.
“I’ve always loved movies and theatrical productions that make me happy and am always looking for things the cast will connect with, and make the audience feel happy during and after they leave the show,” said Lights of Broadway’s director Charity Van Gameren, whose presentation of The Sound of Music last year was a resounding success and sold out all four of its performances.
Describing Millie’s music as jazz, jazz, and more jazz, Van Gameren says she’s excited to present a musical set during the time when women were coming out and rebelling against what was normal in society.
“They were throwing off their corsets,” she explained. “In the first 25 seconds of the play we see Millie go from long red hair in a frumpy farm dress to this sparkling outfit.”
For Jenae Van Gameren, the young actress about to take on the role of the young Kansas girl who moves to New York City to find a husband, transforming herself from a farm girl into a flapper in the process, the ‘20s in New York is a little more exciting, and dangerous, if you will, than the hills of Austria circa 1930s.
“Millie Dillworth is quite different from Liesl,” said Van Gameren about the character she played last year.
“The Sound of Music brought us to our peak, but it’s exciting not to have to do the same thing two years in a row. We’ve gone from nuns to flappers, from singing requiems to Goodbye, Goody-Goody Girl! It really is quite the opposite.”
Once Millie arrives in New York, she gets a job as a stenographer, and sets her sights on her new boss, Trevor Graydon III (played by Steve Braun, last seen as Danny in Powerhouse Theatre’s production of Grease), who here has to sing the mile-a-minute number The Speed Test.
“It’s nice to sing in my voice register,” said Braun, referring to the higher pitched doo-wop songs he had to perform in Grease. “There’s a bit of everything in this show, romance, comedy and dancing.”
With 15 songs in the mix, everyone in the cast gets their turn to shine –– there’s solos, quartets, duets, and ensemble jazz harmonies. In addition, Accentz Dance Studio, led by school owner Becky Martselos with Karina Hettler (Lights of Broadway’s choreographer), are leading a troupe of 15 tap dancers to perform in The Speed Test as well as the number, Forget About the Boy.
“These are show stoppers, the audience will love them,” said Charity.
Providing a love diversion comes in the form of charming handyman Jimmy Smith (Brandon Dorsey).
“She has her eyes set on the goal, but then Jimmy stumbles upon Millie, and a love triangle/polygon starts going on,” said Dorsey, whose deep baritone resonates when singing in the mostly female 18-member chorus. “Jimmy and Millie lead to romance, but their love story has some friction, and they don’t like each other off the bat, but you can tell there is this chemistry.”
An even zanier side story ensues where Millie sets up residence, where she befriends Dorothy (Zoë Robinson), who moves from her glamorous, rich lifestyle in California, to try and make it in New York, and ends up at the Hotel Priscilla, a boarding house for aspiring actresses.
There, their dreams are dashed by the villainous hotel proprietress Mrs. Meers (Brittney Wernicke.)
“Everyone loves to hate her,” said Wernicke about her character. “The things she does are dreadful. She’s like Cruella de Vil, but it’s a lot fun to play her and let go.”
Adding to the comic relief is New York socialite Muzzy Van Hossmere (Melissa Cochrane), whom Millie meets at a party.
“She’s more of a superstar, a diva, who hangs out with the elite of New York,” said Cochrane. “(However,) she’s not originally from New York and has a rags to riches story. She’s more like a mother figure to Millie.”
With sets that include an office, hotel, and a Manhattan apartment, set designer Dave Brotsky has been like Woody Allen trying to recreate 1920s’ New York architecture, studying about Art Deco, while his partner in life and design, Lorraine Johnson Brotsky, has created costumes that are the “bee’s knees,” said Charity.
“I can’t wait for audiences to see the effort that has been put into this show. It’s upbeat and so much fun. Anyone who comes will be glad they did.”
Thoroughly Modern Millie takes the stage at the Performing Arts Centre May 6 at 7 p.m. and May 7 at 2 and 7 p.m. Tickets are $25 for adults and $22 for students/seniors at the Ticket Seller, 549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca.