After much anticipation, Director of Theater Kyle Reynolds announced the 2020 winter musical, “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”
Set in New York during the 1920s, this musical tells the story of young Millie Dullmount, who moves from Kansas to the big city in search of a new life. Millie’s plan to find a job and marry a wealthy man quickly goes awry. A love story at its core, “Thoroughly Modern Millie” portrays many of the controversial events that took place during the time period, including Chinese immigration, the flapper movement, human trafficking, and prohibition.
In a letter sent home to KO families, Mr. Reynolds explained why he chose this musical. “So often musicals are just there for the applause,” Mr. Reynolds said. “The theater is a place to entertain and teach. ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ provides our program with an opportunity to do both.”
“Thoroughly Modern Millie,” the musical, is based on the original film that was released in 1967. As explained by the study guide in Mr. Reynolds’ letter, “Writer Dick Scanlan and composer Jeanine Tesori were dedicated to upending the racist stereotypes that are prevalent in the original film when crafting their approach to the stage version of the musical.”
It is not uncommon for a musical to be rooted in historical context. “Every show has a central problem,” Mr. Reynolds said. “What’s important is how we address it in a thoughtful way. We are not endorsing racism; we are portraying that it was very real.”
Senior Remy McCoy, who is starring in the lead role as Millie, agrees with Mr. Reynolds. “Even though 1920 seems like a long time ago, similar issues exist today,” she said.
As a whole, “Thoroughly Modern Millie” emphasizes the difference between good and bad. “When you put something as controversial as racism on stage, you have to make sure that it is obvious that the villain is the fool,” Mr. Reynolds said.
According to Tony Award Winning Director Denis Jones, “Thoroughly Modern Millie” also reflects positive movements of change. “Women shed Victorian values by not only loosening their corsets and cutting their hair but also by starting to chart their own life courses,” he said. “This is the movement Millie wants to be a part of, and New York embodied the spirit of that movement.”
To help address these important elements, Mr. Reynolds assembled a Collaborative Musical Committee. Consisting of several faculty members, the goal of this committee is to answer the question: “How might we create an opportunity as a means of promoting student awareness, cultural competency, and courageous conversations?” During their first meeting, Mr. Reynolds created a workshop in which committee members talked in small groups about topics relating to theater in general as well as “Thoroughly Modern Millie” specifically.
Director of Diversity and Inclusion Joan Edwards was one of the faculty members on the committee. “I found the workshop to be very thought-provoking,” Ms. Edwards said. “Since 1920 was exactly 100 years ago, we are at a critical juncture in our history. We cannot avoid these conversations. I realized that this committee was asking me to do what I ask other people to do: become comfortable with the uncomfortable.”
Committed to getting the story right, Mr. Reynolds also reached out to students in the international program. “They are the experts,” Mr. Reynolds said. “I want to invest their opinions into the production in an authentic way.” Mr. Reynolds held a movie night to watch and discuss the musical.
Playing the role of Bun Foo, a Chinese immigrant, senior Cecilia Wang is one of the international students involved in the musical. “I like how Mr. Reynolds cares about everyone’s perspective,” Cecilia said. “We talked about a lot of cultural details such as fashion, accents, and mannerisms.”
Always looking to utilize as many resources as possible, Mr. Reynolds continues to bring in experienced actors and actresses to work with KO students as they prepare for opening night. “I feel so passionately about ensuring that we have a strong connection with Broadway,” Mr. Reynolds said. “The best way to push our program to the next level is by learning from the professionals in our field.” Although this is only his second year working at KO, Mr. Reynolds has already brought six Broadway stars to campus.
It is clear that all those involved in the musical are working hard to entertain and educate. “Thoroughly Modern Millie” will premiere at Kingswood Oxford on Feb. 28 and 29 from 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., with tickets available for purchase online or at the door.
In addition to spreading awareness, a portion of the proceeds will be donated to Connecticut’s Human Anti Trafficking Response Team (HART).