Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Thoroughly Modern Modern

Matching dresses for the steno pool 
      Did you realize that the word "modern" -- meaning "of or pertaining to the present time" -- was first used in 1580? That's right. Shakespeare would have considered himself Thoroughly Modern Will.
       And that's part of the joke in the musical "Thoroughly Modern Millie," which opens June 2 at Grand Rapids Civic Theatre. Small town girl Millie Dillmont heads to the big city in 1922 and thinks she's reached the peek of modernity by bobbing her hair and putting on a short, fringed dress.  She and her friends are the trendsetters of almost a century ago, tapping away to tempos of yesteryear and talking in a lingo that was as hip then as today's texting.
      Based on a 1967 film starring Julie Andrews, the 2002 stage version featured a spicy score by Jeanine Tesori and turned the title performer, Michigan's own Sutton Foster, into a Tony-winning star.
Carly Uthoff rehearses Millie
      Civic's director Allyson Paris has some ideas to make the local production even more modern. Like the Broadway version, Civic's show will use projected subtitles to add to the comedy of two Chinese characters in the story. But Paris doesn't plan to limit the projections to subtitles. She has a few fun surprises in store.
        "Projection is the way of the future in scenic design," Paris said before a recent rehearsal.
        Costume designer Robert Fowle has 20 volunteers working on a collection of flashy flapper togs for the large ensemble, but even these styles have been updated to today's tastes. The straight, boxy dresses make everyone look fat, Fowle said, so he's added a little shaping to his designs.
Audiences can count on a ton of tap dancing, as well, with lots of large production numbers and 18 ensemble members who have honed their dancing skills in Civic's tap dancing classes.
          "I want the audience to leave tapping down the aisles," Paris said.
          The show runs through June 18.


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