Thoroughly Modern Millie: Spring Musical On the Way!

All photos by Rebecca Nason

Cori Getzendanner, Writer, Reporter, Mediocre Dancer

Under the direction of Cameron A. Mumford, the theatre, band, and choir programs have been working together to produce the spring musical: Thoroughly Modern Millie (TMM). 

To quickly summarize, TMM is about a country girl, Millie, who moves to the big city of New York to become a “pioneer woman” and make a future for herself. One of her main goals is to find a job and marry her boss. Trying to complete that, she meets Jimmy, Miss Dorothy, Mrs. Meers, and others. 

The main reason this musical was chosen was mostly because of the amount of strong female leads, and the fine arts programs are full of so many talented women, Mumford said. Another reason TMM was picked is the fun aspect of it. There are 82 cast members and tons of choreography. Mumford’s favorite part of producing the show is the dancing, more specifically seeing the entire cast “get up and dance in a synchronized fashion.” 

“It’s exciting and there’s lots of fun dances,” Mumford said. “The 1920s is a unique time and the fact that we’re in our 2020s has really helped us understand. It’s funny, because the show takes place in 1922, and of course this year is 2022. It’s just fun to see the similarities.”

Despite the feministic views in this musical, TMM was originally a controversial movie, released in 1967. In 2002, a Broadway musical was produced based on that movie. Mumford thinks the most challenging part of putting this show together is handling the racist undertones and stereotyping.

“Although the musical did get rid of quite a bit of it,” Mumford said, “we’re having to navigate and make sure that we are bringing it new life and not indulging in that old-style thinking… [This musical] was based off a movie that, at the time, really indulged in racial stereotypes. They really characterized, specifically, Chinese individuals very poorly and they very much victimized all of the white people, as if they are perfect and the other people are all ruining white people’s day.”

When the 2002 musical was released, they changed some of the original movie, but there remained some racist stereotypes and other elements. Two of the villains in this show (William Chen, senior, and Michael Xiao, freshman) are Asian-Americans who immigrated to America, but the 2020 revision of the musical gave those two characters redemption arcs. To help with fixing the stereotypes, a team of Asian-American students went through the script to “soften the edges,” and address the “bad” stereotypes. 

“We’re trying to mitigate [the racist aspects],” Mumford said, “and instead of producing stereotypes of Chinese individuals, we’re trying to highlight the good, greatness of their culture.”

Jenna McLean is the music director for TMM and in addition to that role, she is also the assistant choir director. While it adds a bit more work for her, she says all the other departments involved in this production are “super respectful of each others’ time.” McLean said the most difficult aspect of putting this musical on is the genre of music. 

“The most challenging thing is [TMM] is a very jazzy show and jazz, the concepts within it, are sometimes hard to pick up,” McLean said. “Just making sure that we can all bring out our inner jazz-er has been a little bit difficult since jazz music is not super natural to a lot of people. Everybody’s done a really good job of making sure they listen to the tracks and making sure that they ingrain the jazz rhythms into their voices.”

Barton Faulks is officially the technical theater director for TMM, but he thinks he should be called the guidance director instead because his Advanced Tech students are mostly in charge. Along with the slightly more difficult genre of music in this show, the technical aspects, including sets and props, have proved to be more abundant. In relation to the most recent production, Our Town, which had only a few tables, chairs and ladders, TMM is hugely extensive. 

“Always a musical is more difficult because you have so much more set,” Faulks said. “Musicals are more about spectacle and impressing people with your scenery and the colors and the razzle-dazzle, you might say… We have nine different set-ups that have to roll on stage and be ready to go in a moment.”

Laci Jackson, senior, has been doing theater for 12 years, including all four years of high school. TMM has been her dream show since she started tap dancing.

“When I got the part of Millie,” Jackson said, “it was something that I wanted for a really long time. That was the first lead I ever got so it was definitely a challenge for me, but I’m really excited to perform.” 

Along with being the main role of Millie, Jackson is also the head choreographer for TMM. She says it’s difficult to manage her time with both “roles,” but the two assistant choreographers, Mason Bates and Avery Bennett, are helpful. 

“It’s definitely been stressful to do dances and also do it myself, because I’m in it, but also watch it, but I’ve had a lot of support,” Jackson said. “Everyone’s been really great: Mr. Mumford, the choreographers, the other leads have been really great. I’m glad I got this opportunity to be head choreographer, too, but it is a lot of work. It’s a little stressful.”

Jackson says it means a lot that she gets to play such a strong female protagonist in TMM. 

“I think that [Millie] stands for what we all need,” Jackson said. “She goes after her own thing and she doesn’t do what society tells her to do. Even though it might not be what society wants, I think that’s what we need a lot of today: people that stand up for their own beliefs and not conform to society.”

Thoroughly Modern Millie will be performed January 27, 28, and 29 at 7:00pm, plus a special matinee on the 29th at 2:00pm. Come support the cast, technicians and directors and see all the hard work they put into this production!