South Bay Musical Theatre’s (SBMT) production of the comedy Thoroughly Modern Millie is a thoroughly wonderful flashback to New York City in 1922, two years after the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted women the right to vote.
Thoroughly Modern Millie was the most awarded new show and Best Musical on Broadway in 2002. Sutton Foster rose to stardom playing Millie Dillmount. Julie Andrews starred as Millie in the 1967 movie.
The high-octane song and dance production opened May 18 at Saratoga Civic Theater, 13777 Fruitvale Ave., Saratoga, and plays weekends through June 8. Visit www.SouthBayMT.com for ticket information.
Bringing the Jazz Age to Life
Jessica Maxey, an Electrical Engineering PhD student at Stanford, shines as the small town Millie from Kansas who travels to the big city, following her dream of marrying a rich boss. She arrives with nothing but a suitcase and a return bus ticket, keeping neither for long.
“Ten minutes in this town and I have my New York horror story,” says Millie in the opening scene.
“Thoroughly Modern Millie is really a love letter to the awe of New York City and the dreams that people have of finding themselves,” said SBMT choreographer and director Lee Ann Payne.
It was the onset of the jazz age. Speakeasies were filled with flappers with bobbed hair and fringed dresses. They partied by night and typed by day, hoping the boss would propose.
Millie explains modern love to a new friend: “Don’t you read Vogue? Modern marriage is a business arrangement. Love comes later, occasionally with the man you’re actually married to.”
Jimmy Smith (James M. Jones), the first guy who, literally, falls for Millie, seems far from her rich dream guy. Her boss, Trevor Graydon (Michael Rhone), is blind to her charms and falls for her friend.
The show shines a light on the dark side of New York when the proprietress of the hotel for young women where Millie rooms, turns out to be a trafficker for a white slavery ring in China. Millie’s new friends are at risk and must be saved.
“Millie is a true performer in every sense of the word,” said Payne. “The characters around her are as diverse and vibrant as the city itself, and each and every one of them is a triple threat. From tap to ballet to jazz to ballroom — this cast can execute it all.”
The preview night audience May 17 agreed.
“I thought the show was brilliant,” said Kayleigh Zmoda from Santa Clara. “The comedy, the energy of the whole play — I laughed the whole time. The talent is incredible.”
“The singing and dancing is so outstanding. It’s choreographed so well,” said Greg Amistoso, whose son plays bass in the orchestra, conducted by Joseph Kelly.
Local Cast Shines
The Bay Area cast of 22 perform against a pre-Empire State Building skyline of New York City. Vocal Director Kevin Brownstein lives in Sunnyvale. Four of the actors reside in Santa Clara: Gwyneth Forrester, Michael Rhone, Michael Saenz and Justin Fan.
Fan plays Ching Ho, one of two Chinese immigrant hotel workers. They speak in Cantonese and sing in Mandarin, translated into English supertitles. Coincidentally, Ho and Broadway star Sutton Foster both attended Troy High School in Michigan.
“It’s amazing the talent in this area — people doing theater because they love performing,” said Janice Lenske from Saratoga. “They go about their lives working and raising families and yet they perform like professionals.”
“Performing fulfills a need we don’t get fulfilled in our other lives,” said Rhone, who works in software QA at Apple. “Most of my best friends are people I met doing theater.”
“Singing is my passion, and I don’t get to sing much at work,” said Fan, an Apple software engineer.
“Who doesn’t like someone clapping for you?” said ensemble performer Saenz, a construction company project coordinator.