Arts and Entertainment

‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ to open at the high school

Local young actors at strike a pose at a recent rehearsal for the upcoming production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” opening Friday, Oct. 30 at South Whidbey High School.    - Patricia Duff / The Record
Local young actors at strike a pose at a recent rehearsal for the upcoming production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” opening Friday, Oct. 30 at South Whidbey High School.
— image credit: Patricia Duff / The Record

It’s high school musical time on the South End, and the Jazz Age is coming to town.

South Whidbey High School has teamed up with Whidbey Children’s Theater for a production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” based on the popular 1967 movie musical of the same name that starred Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore.

The show is guaranteed to be a stunner and opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 30 in the auditorium at the high school.

The play version was updated with music by Jeanine Tesori, lyrics by Dick Scanlan and a book by Richard Morris and Scanlan, and opened on Broadway in 2002, winning six Tony Awards that year, including best musical.

Probably the best thing about “Thoroughly Modern Millie” is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

The year is 1922, the height of the Jazz Age, and the young, adventurous Millie makes her way from Kansas to the Big Apple, where she stays at a hotel for actresses run by a white- slave trader, Mrs. Meers, an American ex-convict pretending to be Chinese.

Mrs. Meers is aided by two Chinese men whose mother she has promised to bring to the U.S.

The ever green Millie wants to marry her boss — whoever that might be — as she’s determined to be “modern” and marry for money instead of love. So, she lands a job as a typist and sets out to make the boss fall in love with her.

Her plans go haywire, however, when the boss meets and falls in love with her friend, Miss Dorothy Brown. There follows a comedy of romantic errors, the foiling of the white-slavery plot and revelations about the real wealth and status of Millie’s pal and confidant, Jimmy, and of Miss Dorothy Brown.

Co-directors Dana Linn and Suzanne Kelman said the challenge of the play is to guide the young cast to embrace the look and feel of the roaring ’20s. That task has been somewhat of an adventure for the entire cast.

“Working with this age group has been an uplifting experience, all around,” Linn said.

“I couldn’t have asked for a more committed, talented, cohesive group of performers.”

Indeed, Kelman, who also choreographed the show, was impressed by the cast’s willingness to embrace a certain style of walking, speaking and posing that reveals a quality that was identifiable to an era when young people were making their mark in a new world of modernism.

The actors plunged into magazine articles, photos and movies from that period, immersing themselves in one of the most historic cultural periods in American history.

“They’ve also had to learn many of the dance styles of the era, the Charleston in particular,” Kelman said.

“And a great deal of our cast have had to learn to tap dance, and have been diligent and enthusiastic through the whole process.”

Historically, the word “flapper,” which described that new breed of girl who wore shorter skirts, bobbed her hair and listened and danced to jazz music, was coined because of the way this new generation looked liked baby birds flapping their arms about, as if learning to fly while doing the latest dance.

“In working with our cast, I realized most of them are just a little younger than the original flappers, and they often strike me the same way,” Kelman said. “I can’t think of a better age group to give new life and authenticity to this 1920s show than this cast of teenagers.”

Being asked to stretch oneself outside of a certain comfort zone is difficult for any actor, but the directors said this cast did it all in characterization, in dance and in singing.

“The show is delightful, the cast is fun,” Kelman said. “The early Jazz Age music is hummable and toe-tapping, and we’re sure the audience will leave smiling each night.”

The cast includes Nicole Ledgerwood, Evan Elwell, Sommer Harris, Carrie Walker, April Wilhelm, Jennifer Zisette, Tessa Odle, Dinah Hassrick, Isabella Moreno, Justine Coomes, Kim McLean, Trevor Hein, Athena Michaelides, Ambria Prosch, Ethan Berkley, Jacquie Cerra, Erik Sundquist, Allie Firth, Andy Walker, Dominique Knight, Katie Ewing, Sarafina Durr, Gina Knox, Jasmine O’Brochta, Carrie Walker, Savanna Seyler, Jacque Petosa, Kimmer Webb and Robert Prosch.

“Thoroughly Modern Millie” is produced by Barbara Walker and Dana Harris, with direction by Dana Linn and Suzanne Kelman, musical direction by Dana Linn, choreography by Suzanne Kelman, costumes by Valerie Johnson, props and set pieces by Julie Cunha and Becky Duthie, lighting design and stage tech by Rod Stewart and set design by a committee of artists and producers and built by Jim Scullin and Tom Harris. The stage manager is Kathleen Landel.

Performances will run at 7:30 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays through Nov. 8. Please note there will be a show at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 5 ($5 family night) and no show on Friday, Nov. 6. The show will also be presented at 2 p.m. Sundays, Nov. 1 and 8. Tickets cost $12 for adults and $8 for students and seniors at the door. South Whidbey High School is at 5675 South Maxwelton Road in Langley.

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