“Thoroughly Modern Millie” brings the Roaring Twenties to life onstage
- “Thoroughly Modern Millie” tells tale of young girl who moves to New York City during the Jazz Age hoping to get a job and marry her boss.
- Art deco theme of the show appears throughout in costumes, posters and backgrounds to transport audiences to the 1920s in NYC.
Millie Dillmount enters the stage at the beginning of Liberty University’s production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” swapping her long dark braids for a fashionable bob. With two suitcases in hand, Millie never looks back as she navigates the world of Jazz Age New York City.
“Thoroughly Modern Millie” follows Millie as she moves to New York from small town Kansas in 1922 with the “thoroughly modern” goal of getting a job in the city and eventually marrying her millionaire boss Trevor Graydon. Those plans are complicated when she meets and falls in love with Jimmy Smith, a poor paper clip salesman. In the process of achieving her goals, Millie stays at the Hotel Priscilla, a hotel for young women run by the sinister Mrs. Meers, who sells some of the orphaned girls who stay at the hotel into white slavery in Southeast Asia.
The musical, originally based on a British musical called “Chrysanthemum” and adapted into a 1967 movie starring Julie Andrews, contains music written by Jeanine Tesori with lyrics by Rick Scanlon. It previously appeared on the Tower Theater in the 2006 – 2007 season.
“That name came up again (while planning the theater season), and it’s one that a lot of us like and we thought it would be a good experience for our students and our audience and it made it on the list this time,” director Neal Brasher said.
A musical of farce and comedy, “Millie” presented opportunities for the cast to stretch their performing abilities with the musical’s songs, script and story.
“Besides playing an antagonist role it’s been really interesting being a part of this musical comedy,” Amanda Ward, who plays Mrs. Meers, said. “It’s a very, very specific style and you have to be very, very consistent and clear and sharp so I think it’s been a very unique experience just style wise as an actress – it’s really broadened my repertoire.”
From the catchy swing music that the cast taps and dances the Charleston, to the colorful art deco-inspired New York City skyline backdrop in some scenes, the cast and production crew embrace the Roaring Twenties setting.
“With this (musical) it would be hard not to (embrace it) because there’s some very specific lines from the play and the songs that say this is the 1920s, but we really wanted to display that and make that a part of the show,” Brasher said. “The set design and everything – the props, the things sitting on people’s desks, the desks themselves and the clothing – represent that 1920s period when one of the major trends was art deco.”
Art deco was an art movement particularly prominent in the 1920s and ‘30s that sought to decorate functional items from buildings to silverware and clothing with artistic designs.
“Buildings like the Metropolitan Life Tower and the Empire State Building had these different looks to them but even cars, motorcycles, clocks, kitchen appliances, many of them had this art deco feel: these angles, these arcs and these shapes that are reflective of art deco,” Brasher said. “It was in everything, it was absolutely pervasive, so we really tried to embrace that with the costumes, with the set design, with the poster and the program.”
By allowing the audience to immerse themselves in the world of the “bright young things,” Brasher and Ward hope that the audience is able to escape the realities of the current day for the length of the performance.
“I hope it’s a chance for the audience to relax and maybe step away from the cares of the world for a little bit and enjoy just a good piece of art – enjoy good music, good performing and acting and a nice visual presentation,” Brasher said. “I believe good art, just like good experiences in nature and good conversations, can have that effect on us – can be healing and restorative. I hope through the enjoyment of music and I hope a lot of laughter, that the audience will take that from the experience.”
“I hope that this show gives the audience a really good laugh because it is so comedic and farcical and theater is really beautiful in the way that it allows people to escape from reality, but at the same time I think it has a really good moral message,” Ward said. “Millie, this girl who moved to New York City completely by herself on a whim was really able to find something meaningful there, and this scary decision allowed her to grow in a way that she wasn’t expecting, and I hope that audiences feel that encouragement to go out and do big, exciting things.”
“Thoroughly Modern Millie” opened Nov. 3 and is running at Tower Theater until Nov. 12. You can purchase tickets at the Tower Box Office in person, online or by calling the Tower Box Office at (434)-582-2085 or the Liberty Box Office at (434)-582-7328.