Musical comedy tells story of a small-town girl finding love and independence
Published in the February 14, 2018 issue of Morgan Hill Life
It’s 1922 and American women have had the right to vote for only three years. In the South Valley Civic Theatre’s teen show “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” a young woman arrives in New York City of the Roaring ‘20s and discovers her independence and intelligence through luck and pluck.
Opening Feb. 23, the musical stars Live Oak High School senior Brianna Pember as “Millie Dillmount.” With big ambitions, she leaves her hometown of Salina, Kan., and finds herself in the Big Apple with two suitcases of clothing and a dream to find a rich man to marry. Through her comical adventures, Millie bobs her hair and takes on the attire of a flapper, eventually finding out that a modern woman doesn’t need a man to make her happy.
“Millie is this girl who dreams of making it big and having a bigger and better lifestyle,” Pember said. “She moves all the way to New York City with no plan. Throughout the show, she faces some obstacles, and her original goal is flipped around, and her life is turned upside down when she meets Jimmy who becomes the love of her life and something she never knew she needed.”
Played by Roberto Nolasco, Jimmy Smith is a paperclip salesman who is popular with young women. At first Millie thinks she wants to marry Trevor Graydon, played by Ben Snook, the owner of Sincere Trust Insurance Company where she finds a job working as his stenographer. Millie delights in her new independence and big city lifestyle. But she faces danger when she checks into a hotel owned by the leader of a white slavery ring. Based on a 1967 movie of the same title, “Thoroughly Modern Millie” opened on Broadway on April 18, 2002, and won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
Pember plans to go to college after graduation this June. She has applied to various universities to study her passion, musical theater. Performing as the lead in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” has helped her better understand how far women’s rights have come in the past 100 years, she said. Women’s social status started transforming after they gained suffrage. The economic recovery in the aftermath of the world war that ended Nov. 11, 1918, also changed American culture as the nation had to adapt to women’s increasing equality as they entered careers.
“Before the flappers came out, the women were married off,” Pember said. “That was a time where they were expected to have babies and reproduce and take care of your family. The 1920s came around and women started changing it up. They started not conforming to social standards anymore.”
Women in the Jazz Age cut their hair into bobs styles and began wearing high heels with glitzy short skirts. Young women shocked traditional social viewpoints by wearing excessive makeup, smoking, driving automobiles, drinking cocktails and treating sex in a casual manner. They started to really take their lives in their own hands with the loosening up of social standards, Pember said. The dramatic changes opened doors to more opportunities for women.
“The flappers really started everything that we have now,” Pember said. “We had a woman run for president in 2016, which definitely wouldn’t happen, like, a long time ago. The women were emerging out of the shadows into the spotlight.”
Throughout the show, Millie demonstrates that a woman who uses her wits can survive in a big city, she said.
“She is very smart. She’s really street savvy and picks up on all the lingo in New York City very quickly,” she said. “She ends up getting a job on the first week she arrives as a stenographer for a big company. Her ultimate goal is to marry her boss, the owner of the company, so that she can have money and a comfortable lifestyle.”
Falling in love with Jimmy, Millie eventually learns that marriage should not be just to have financial security and a comfortable life, she said.
“She realizes she doesn’t need to depend on a man for wealth and happiness,” she said. “She needs to follow her heart and go for what she wants.”
The male characters also have transformed with the Jazz Age times, Pember said.
“Trevor Graydon is, like, this really big boss of this huge successful company and he has a lot of female employees working for him,” she said. “He’s, like, very blunt and he has high expectations of them, which is good. He talks about how this job is an opportunity where women can go straight up in the work field.”
Trevor dates Millie’s best friend, an actress from California named Miss Dorothy Brown, played by Melodie Knappe. He talks to her about being kind and gentle to women instead of dominant of their lives, Pember said.
Early in the show, Jimmy is a “player,” a shallow young man who lives his life on whim and wits. When he meets Millie, he is drawn to her larger-than-life personality. He ultimately falls in love with her because of her independence and her dreams, she said.
“This show a lot of fun. I love the cast so much,” Pember said. “I feel like I can go up and talk to anybody because we’re super close. The audience is going to love this musical for the great music and dances. It’s a real feel-good show.”