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1920s setting, timeless stories in Thoroughly Modern Millie

Call her a modern Modern Millie.

Though still a flapper in 1920s New York, the Millie Dillmount of the stage version of Thoroughly Modern Millie is a little more au courant than her counterpart in the 1967 Academy Award-winning film.

In the first week of rehearsal for the Drayton Entertainment production, Jayme Armstrong is having all kinds of fun with the character.

“It starts out with her literally fresh off the bus from Kansas,” she explains of Millie, who’s come to the Big Apple to reinvent herself … and to snag a rich husband.

She cuts her hair – bobs were all the rage then – changes her wardrobe and goes out in search of a job that’ll provide the kind of prospects she’s aiming for.

“I think Millie is incredibly brave. For her time, that was really bold,” says Armstrong. “It’s a dream role.”

It’s a physically demanding part, filled with singing and dancing throughout.

“There’s so much choreography,” she said. “There’s so much tap dancing in the show.”

That’s certainly in keeping with the setting of Jazz Age New York City, as reflected in the costumes and set for a production that runs July 5-23 at the St. Jacobs Country Playhouse. The hemlines are short, the men are dashing and the rules about love, work, and just about everything else, are ready to be broken.

It’s into that Roaring Twenties environment that the young Millie arrived, determined to better her station by becoming a secretary for a wealthy man and then convincing him to marry her. But, it doesn’t take long before Millie’s “thoroughly modern” plan goes awry. The hotel she calls home is run by a conniving villainess running a shady business, her wealthy boss seems immune to her fervent flirtations, and the man she truly loves appears to be penniless.

Can she make her dreams come true? Well, maybe, but first she has to figure out what they really are.

“The thing that she thinks is her dream, when she gets there, well, it isn’t,” says Armstrong.

Along the way, there are plenty of laughs, a few poignant moments and, of course, music and dancing. It’s all light-hearted fun.

Thoroughly Modern Millie, which opens next week in St. Jacobs, is being directed and choreographed by Michael Lichtefeld. He rehearsed with cast members Jayme Armstrong and Zach Trimmer. [Submitted]

Based on the 1967 film of the same name, Thoroughly Modern Millie opened on Broadway to great acclaim in 2000, winning six Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It features a score of brassy jazz-inspired hits like “Not for the Life of Me,” “Forget about the Boy,” and the popular title tune.

It’s an involved show to produce, Armstrong notes, so it isn’t staged as often as it might.

“It’s a show that’s not commonly done – it’s an extremely challenging undertaking. It’s a show that requires an outstanding cast.”

For this production, the cast includes newcomer Zach Trimmer as the charming playboy Jimmy Smith, who hopes to win Millie’s affections despite his lack of financial stability. Soprano Anwyn Musico will play Millie’s sweet and well-to-do best friend Miss Dorothy Brown, who is looking to get some ‘raw and real’ life experience in preparation for a career on the stage.

Experienced villainess and comedienne Kristin Peace is Mrs. Meers, the evil owner of Hotel Priscilla, who is secretly involved in a sinister business scheme that may put Millie and her friend in danger. Neil Salanas and Ryan Kaneko are her conflicted henchmen.

Brent Thiessen makes his Drayton Entertainment debut as Millie’s rich and dashing boss Trevor Graydon, whom she is desperate to marry. Veteran actress Susan Gilmour takes on the role of glamorous lounge singer Muzzy Van Hossmere, who becomes Millie’s confidante and mentor, and Christina Gordon is Miss Flannery, the stern office manager, who runs the steno pool at Sincere Trust Insurance Company, Millie’s workplace.

The Drayton Entertainment production of Thoroughly Modern Millie runs July 5-July 23 at the St. Jacobs Country Playhouse. Tickets are $46 ($27 for youth under 20), available at the theatre, online at www.draytonentertainment.com, by calling the box office at (519) 747-7788 or toll free at 1-855-drayton (372-9866).

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