Bobbing hair, raising hemlines, rewriting the rules. Once again, the Kingswood Oxford award-winning theater program did not disappoint but instead, raised the bar another notch with this year’s spring musical, Thoroughly Modern Millie. The incredibly talented cast brought energy, intensity, and passion to the stage that had the audience on their feet. Literally. The production received a standing ovation during the Friday and Saturday night performances in Roberts Theater.
Set in New York City in 1922, Thoroughly Modern Millie tells the story of young Millie Dillmount (Remy McCoy ‘20) from Kansas, who comes to New York in search of a new life for herself, and most definitely a rich husband. Within a short period of time in the city, she is mugged and (literally) bumps into Jimmy Smith (Joey Fago ‘20), a handsome, carefree young man who tells her to go back to Kansas but gives her the name of a hotel where struggling young actresses take refuge.
Unbeknownst to Millie, Mrs. Meers (Braeden Rose ‘21), the sinister owner of the dingy hotel and a jaded former actress who works for a slavery ring in Hong Kong, kidnaps young orphan girls staying at the hotel and sells them to the Orient. Early on in her stay, Millie meets wealthy Miss Dorothy (Maggie Eberle ‘20), who is on a mission to find out who the other half lives and the two women room together and become friends.
In the Hotel Priscilla laundry room, two Chinese immigrants, Ching Ho (Frank Pu ‘23) and Bun Foo (Cecilia Wang ‘20) are working for Mrs. Meers to earn enough money to bring their mother from Hong Kong over to the States. An early plan involving a poison apple by Mrs. Meers (believing Miss Dorothy is an orphan) is foiled by Ching Ho who falls for Miss Dorothy the first time he lays eyes on her. Millie finds a job as a typist at Sincere Trust and sets her sights on Trevor Graydon (Elan Stadelmann ‘20), the company’s boss, to be her husband. To celebrate her new job she and the other Priscilla girls (Gloria: Olivia Pear ‘21, Ruth: Sattah Phouthakoun ‘23, Rita: Avery Schiff ‘23, Alice: McKenzie Campbell ‘23, Cora: Mary Kaliszewski ‘21, Lucille: Faith Potter ‘23, Ethel Peas: Morgan Siegel ‘22) from the hotel attend a speakeasy, where they meet Jimmy again. They enjoy a fun and rowdy evening until the club is raided by the police. While waiting for his release in the jail cell, Jimmy realizes that he loves Millie.
A few days later Millie attends a party with Jimmy hosted by famous singer Muzzy van Hossmere (Kyleace Hunter ‘22). After the party, Millie and Jimmy argue but, as they exchange words, Jimmy suddenly grabs Millie, kisses her, and then runs away. Millie realizes at that moment that she loves Jimmy, but when she returns to Hotel Pricilla she overhears a conversation between Miss Dorothy and Jimmy that leads her to believe the pair have their own late-night affair. Confused and heart-broken, Millie decides she never wants anything to do with Jimmy ever again.
At the beginning of Act II, Miss Dorothy visits Millie at work and Mr. Graydon is immediately smitten with Dorothy and asks her on a date, ruining Millie’s plan to marry him for his wealth. Jimmy, unable to get Millie to return his calls or see him, breaks in through the window and convinces Millie to go to dinner with him. Back at the Hotel Priscilla, Mrs. Meers furthers her conniving plan and uses Ching Ho and Bun Foo to drug Miss Dorothy, but Ching Ho refuses because he loves her. Jimmy finally declares his feelings for Millie. Millie, still confused by her feelings and desire not to be poor, runs to Muzzy, who tells her the story of her late husband and impresses upon her that she is a fool for throwing away true love for the sake of money. Just as Millie returns to Jimmy to confess her feelings, they encounter Graydon, who was stood up by Miss Dorothy for their date, relaying that Mrs. Meers told him Miss Dorothy had checked out of the hotel. Millie realizes that these disappearances have happened to other tenants and the trio recognizes Mrs. Meers’ scheme. They persuade Muzzy to pose as a new orphan in town to trick Mrs. Meers, who takes the bait and exposes the slavery ring. Meanwhile, Ching Ho had already rescued Miss Dorothy and won her heart.
Jimmy proposes to Millie, and she accepts, "because if it's marriage I've got in mind, love has everything to do with it." Jimmy turns out to be Herbert J. van Hossmere III, Muzzy's stepson, and one of the most eligible bachelors in the world. And Miss Dorothy turns out to be his sister, who chooses Ching Ho over the dismayed Trevor Graydon. Muzzy reveals that to help Jimmy and Dorothy avoid ensnarement by fortune-hunters, she sent them out into the world so that they could find spouses who weren't gold diggers. In a final scene, Bun Foo joins Graydon's company as a new stenographer, and Bun Foo and Ching Ho are once again reunited with their mother.
Swift, smooth, and embodying the 20s flapper era with a talented cast that made you experience a gamut of emotions, Thoroughly Modern Millie had the Broadway razzle-dazzle and the songs and dances to boot brought to life by the talented cast.
Variety deemed Millie “the most controversial new show of the Broadway season,” upon its release due to its confrontation of issues such as racism, feminism, and human trafficking. In addition to the monumental preparation of casting and lines, costumes, lighting, sound, music, stage construction, the theater department organized a committee to deal with sensitive issues through educating the community about the topics. To add to the authenticity, the characters of Ching Ho and Bun Foo spoke in Mandarin, and their lines were illuminated as subtitles above the stage. Director of Theater Kyle Reynolds deliberately tackled the issues to encourage deeper learning and courageous conversations.
Reynolds said, “We see this as an opportunity for education within our community. We are leaning into the challenge of presenting a musical that accurately represents artistic material in the utmost respectful, educational, and culturally competent manner possible while recognizing the majority--if not all--musicals were written to challenge thought, provoke discussion, and question the narrative.”
Despite all of this, this cast maintained the utmost professionalism and talent to deliver what you would expect from an award-winning theater program: a huge success.
“I have no fear in saying that through this musical, Kingswood Oxford has modeled how to effectively produce a controversial musical in a manner that demands honesty, integrity, respect, and passion. This experience for our students has proved that Kingswood Oxford is a transformative day school that engages students in real-world and interdisciplinary learning opportunities that expand beyond the classroom in a way that develops compassionate collaborators, ethical problem solvers, and active citizens. Welcome to 1922,” wrote Reynolds.
Dorothy Parker (Emily Lemkuil ‘20), the Pearl Lady (Kate Beck ‘21), The Letch (Tommy Vitarelli ‘22), Policeman (Christian He ‘23), Gerswins (Justin Rios ‘22 and Chaitayna Karanam ‘21), Rodney (Tommy Vitarelli ‘22), Kenneth (Luke Roen ‘23), Daphne (Snehaa Ram ‘21), Dexter (Ricardo Croes-Ball ‘22), Mathilde (Jolie Flash ‘23 and Jhanvi Daddala ‘23), New Millie (Faith Potter ‘23), Dishwasher (Elsa June Ciscel ‘22).