Inside… Thoroughly Modern Millie

The age of tale of a small-town girl who comes to New York City with a suitcase full of dreams, Thoroughly Modern Millie mixes the best of old and new to create a comical pastiche worthy of any decade. Delightfully camp, whimsical, and nostalgic, this musical is a celebration in all things weird, and wonderful. Here’s how it became a phenomenon…

Original Movie

Released in 1967, the romantic comedy musical was destined to be a hit after scoring Julie Andrews as the lead, fresh off of her Mary Poppins and The Sound Of Music success. Alongside Andrews starred the now legendary Mary Tyler Moore, and Carol Channing rounding out the cast to be a trio of ultra-talented divas.

Set in New York City, 1922, the story follows young flapper Millie Dillmount as she is determined to find work as a stenographer to a wealthy businessman with a plot to marry him and live the high life. Along the way she befriends the sweet and naive Dorothy Brown, embroils into a tumultuous relationship with poor salesman Jimmy Smith, and foils evil Mrs. Meers attempts to sell young, lonesome woman into white slavery.

For the films music, they mixed original songs by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn with standard songs from the period of its setting in the 1910s and 1920s. Elmer Bernstein composed the incidental score, for which he won an Academy Award, while André Previn arranged and conducted the soundtrack.

Released to tremendous success both critically and commercially, it became the tenth highest grossing movie that year and was nominated for seven Academy Awards and five Golden Globes for which it won three awards. Today the flick is regarded as one of the greatest movie musicals of all time.

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Genesis

Based on the British stage show Chrysanthemum, the movie borrowed core plot points and characters from the melodramatic ragtime musical by Neville Phillips and Robin Chancellor.

The story sees title character Chrysanthemum return to her hometown three years following her disappearance concealing a secret that she has been a victim of white slave trade. When she learns that innocent Mary Ann has also been captured by the evil Ma Carroty she fixes a plan to save her and wreak revenge on the perputrator.

The stage show eventually found its way to America, but the high success of Thoroughly Modern Millie with an all too similar plot blocked it from finding success, and diminished the shows popularity.

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Stage Show

Director Michael Mayer underwent several workshops in New York to rework the movie correctly for stage in 1999, whose cast included Kristin Chenoweth, Marc Kudisch, and Beatrice Arthur. While keeping the overall tone of the film, with the core characters and storyline remaining the same, much was added to fully flesh out the story and expand its themes.

Jeanine Tesori, best known for her work on How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying and Shrek The Musical produced the music, while Dick Scanlan, who co-wrote Motown: The Musical, was behind the book and lyrics.

The show played out-of-town tryouts throughout 2000 prior to its main stage debut. Despite helping to craft the central role throughout the training process, Kristin Chenoweth left the role of Millie in order to film her own sitcom. She was briefly replaced by Erin Dilly, but she was later taken over by her understudy, Sutton Foster, in the role that made her an A lister on the theatre scene.

The musical premiered on Broadway at the Marquis Theatre on April 18, 2002 and closed on June 20, 2004 after 903 performances and 32 previews. The original production won six Tony Awards and five Drama Desk Awards, including the win for Best Musical at both ceremonies.

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International

In 2003, following the immense success the show saw in the US, the original creative team reunited to stage the show in London’s West End. It began previews on October 11 and opened on October 21 at the Shaftesbury Theatre. Well-known UK TV personality Amanda Holden took the title role, until she was forced to take time off due to illness, leaving her understudy Donna Steele to take over the role to critical acclaim. Despite positive reviews the show failed to succeed in the UK and closed on June 26, 2004.

The show found more success on the touring scene, holding two well-received revivals in the UK both in 2005, and more recently in 2017.

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Musical Numbers

Act I

  • “Overture” — Orchestra
  • “Not for the Life of Me” — Millie
  • “Thoroughly Modern Millie” — Millie & Moderns
  • “Not for the Life of Me (Tag)” — Millie & the Hotel Girls
  • “How the Other Half Lives” — Millie & Miss Dorothy
  • “How the Other Half Lives (reprise)” – Millie and Miss Dorothy
  • “Not for the Life of Me (Reprise)” — Bun Foo and Ching Ho
  • “The Speed Test” — Trevor Graydon, Millie, Stenographers & Office Singers
  • “They Don’t Know” — Mrs. Meers
  • “The Nuttycracker Suite” – Orchestra
  • “What Do I Need with Love?” – Jimmy
  • “Only in New York” — Muzzy
  • “Jimmy” — Millie
Act II
  • “Entr’acte” — Orchestra
  • “Forget About the Boy” — Millie, Miss Flannery, Women Office Singers, Stenographers
  • “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life/Falling in Love with Someone” — Trevor Graydon and Miss Dorothy
  • “I Turned the Corner/Falling in Love with Someone (Reprise)” — Millie, Jimmy, Miss Dorothy, Trevor Graydon
  • “Muqin” — Mrs. Meers, Bun Foo, Ching Ho
  • “Long as I’m Here with You” — Muzzy & Muzzy’s Boys
  • “Gimme Gimme” — Millie
  • “The Speed Test (Reprise)” — Millie, Trevor Graydon, Jimmy
  • “Ah! Sweet Mystery (Reprise)” — Miss Dorothy and Ching Ho
  • “Thoroughly Modern Millie (Reprise)” — Jimmy, Miss Dorothy & Moderns
  • “Curtain Call/Bows” — Cast
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