Classically Modern: 'Thoroughly Modern Millie' kicks off summer with love and comedy

In Thoroughly Modern Millie, a classic musical tale of rejuvenation and following your dreams is told through Millie Dillmount, a girl-next-door who uproots her rural life to move to The Big Apple in the 1920s.

“She’s very spunky and energetic,” said actress Carly Uthoff, describing her character, Millie. “She’s very confident and she’s very naive. She’s actually from Kansas, so she’s moving to New York City with this whole image of being this ‘modern woman.’”

In the 1920s, a “modern woman” was one who broke traditional patterns — she wore bobbed hair and short skirts, drank, smoked and used vulgar language.

Uthoff, 31, said she has been spending a lot of time getting to know her character and molding and developing her.

“I think every rehearsal is a little bit different and it’s a slow process molding the character,” she said. “You kind of adapt to the character and get to know her more throughout the process, too. And you realize things more as you dive into the script.”

Uthoff gave kudos to the stage managers in helping her and the rest of the cast learn more about what life was like nearly a century ago from now.

“They’re really good about letting us know what’s going on in the time period,” she said. “A lot of people don’t know the history.”

The show has 15 scene changes throughout and Uthoff said there are all kinds of different sets that will be used — including Millie’s workplace, a hotel and a party. The show takes place over the course of a month in Millie’s life. Uthoff said her biggest takeaway was that things eventually all fall into place.

“You can have this plan set for yourself but circumstances take place and sometimes it’s okay to veer off the plan that you’ve made for yourself,” Uthoff said. “That’s the story of Millie.”

The upcoming production will feature many songs and dance numbers, including some tap dancing scenes.

“It’s a very heavy tap show,” said Uthoff, who has danced tap before, but this show will be the most she’s had to do. “I’ve poured a lot of my effort into just learning the tap steps. The ensemble, they’re all just amazing tap dancers. They are so fun to watch and are really good (motivation) for me to really step up my tap game.”

This production will be Uthoff’s fifth show at Civic, where she also teaches a combination of singing, dancing and acting classes to K-2nd graders.

Millie Director Allyson Paris, associate director at Civic Theatre, also directed the show seven years ago for a theater in California and described it as a “fun, summer musical.”

“There have been a lot of laughs,” Paris said, about the latest rehearsals. “I had forgotten how just funny it is. We often will have to stop rehearsal because we’re all too busy laughing to keep moving forward.”

Beyond the laughs, tap dancing and the many costume and scene changes, Paris said one other challenge has been more on the technical side, with a turntable and a projector being used throughout the show.

Paris said she hopes audience members leave the June show feeling feeling bright and happy.

“I hope they come away feeling lighter, launched into summer,” Paris said. “It’s a really fun exploration of the nature of love. Millie, at one point, has to make a choice between two different kinds of love. But mostly, I hope they walk away having had a really wonderful time.”

Thoroughly Modern Millie
Grand Rapids Civic Theatre
30 Division Ave., Grand Rapids, (616) 222-6650