Don’t let the word “modern” fool you in “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”
This is an old-fashioned musical with lots of tap-dancing, elaborate production numbers and – in the Spokane Civic Theatre’s season-opening presentation – 26 cast members and a 12-piece pit orchestra.
The title character is thoroughly modern only by the standards of the 1920s, when it was considered oh-so-daring for a woman to bob her hair, dance the Charleston and boldly announce her plan to marry her boss for money, not for love.
That’s the central plot theme of “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” which people of a certain age will remember from the 1967 movie with Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore.
Local audiences might also remember it from a 2007 production by the Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre, in which Kathie Doyle-Lipe stole a few scenes as the repressed head of the office steno pool.
We mention Doyle-Lipe because she’s back in this production, doing triple-duty. She’s the co-director and co-choreographer with Greg Pschirrer, and she also plays Mrs. Meers, one of the show’s big comedic roles.
The advance word is: She’ll be stealing a few scenes this time, too.
Millie Dillmount will be played by Ashley Cooper, who memorably portrayed another flapper in the Civic’s “No, No, Nanette.” Other key roles will be played by Alyssa Day, Jeremy Trigsted, Mark Pleasant and Christina Coty.
This production marks the debut of Benjamin Bentler as the Civic’s full-time music director. He arrived from Iowa this summer and he’ll be directing one of the largest Civic pit orchestras ever.
The show also features 1,200 costume pieces, including lots of tap shoes.
“Our audience loves a good toe-tapping musical comedy,” said the Civic’s executive artistic director, Yvonne A.K. Johnson.
The word “modern” in the title is apt in at least one sense: The musical dates only to 2002, when it opened on Broadway with a score by Jeanine Tesori, Dick Scanlan and a book by Scanlan and Richard Morris.
So it’s not exactly a true old-fashioned musical; more like a replica of one, played partly for campy fun and partly to revel in the exuberant pleasures and corny comedy of Roaring ’20s musicals.
It was not designed to please New York Times critic Ben Brantley, who savaged it on opening night. He said it was like “being stampeded by circus ponies” and guaranteed to “leave you either grinning like an idiot or with a migraine the size of Alaska.”
Audiences disagreed and flocked to “Millie” for more than two years. Tony voters loved it: The show swept the 2002 Tonys, winning six awards, including Best Musical. It has since become a popular choice for regional, community and college theaters.