Today’s modern girls wear Beats headphones and flip flops. But long-waisted dresses, felt hats and dangling pearls were all the rage during the early ’20s.
“Thoroughly Modern Millie,” which earned the 2002 Tony Award for best musical, imagines life for a young girl who leaves small-town Kansas for the bright lights of Manhattan.
Convinced by fashion magazines that she’s too “modern” to marry for love, Millie decides she’ll marry for money. She looks for a job where she can marry the boss. But in the ways of love, nothing ever goes as planned.
Christian Youth Theater (CYT) of Phoenix is performing a family-friendly “junior” version of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” through Sunday, May 18 at Mesa Arts Center. It’s filled with upbeat songs, playful tap dance numbers and delightful plot twists.
Setting the stage
The musical opens as Millie arrives in New York City with a pair of suitcases and a dream. She’s standing in front of a big-city skyline, one of many set pieces. Others transport audiences to Millie’s hotel and office—plus a jail cell, window ledge, restaurant and more.
Millie has a bob-style hair style. She wears dresses, hats and gloves that reflect the era’s flapper-inspired fashions. The men in “Millie” don hats, suspenders and ties in styles from that time. Sometimes the stage is filled with dancers sporting sequined outfits of black and tan, or bright red with blue.
It’s a team effort
Sets, costumes, hair, make-up and props for “Millie” are magnificent. They’re detailed, colorful and truly reminiscent of the era at the heart of the show. All are the work of parents and other volunteers who help in other ways, too.
“Thoroughly Modern Millie” is directed by CYT Phoenix founding artistic director Tambra Lamb and musical direction is by Sara McDermott. Tap choreography is by Bruce Goolsby; other choreography is by Lamb.
Their cast of nearly 50 youth exudes genuine joy while performing, making this musical a real pleasure to watch.
The kids make it happen
Cadence Lamb, who has been in all 21 CYT Phoenix productions, performs the role of Millie. She’ll graduate this month from Veritas Preparatory Academy in Phoenix and enter a bachelor of fine arts program in theater program at Illinois Wesleyan University this fall. Eight additional youth have lead roles.
Most cast members perform in select song and dance numbers as part of particular groups—Priscilla girls (named for a hotel), tappers, speed test office workers, speakeasy dancers, floor show singers/dancers and the company.
Some youth theaters create large casts but aren’t skilled at assuring each child has a meaningful role. But these young performers had plenty of song and dance time—and it was clear they’d been given the time and attention it takes to develop and deliver a confident, capable performance.