by Ian Liberto
It’s just before lunch break on our first day of rehearsal for the 15th Anniversary of the Thoroughly Modern Millie reunion concert. We’ve spent a few hours being meticulously taught the choreography to the title song by JoAnn M. Hunter, the dance captain of the Original Broadway Company, and Chris Bailey, the dance captain from the original London company, both accomplished choreographers in their own right today. All the while, Rob Ashford stands by the mirror and interjects every four or eight counts, giving color commentary on the origin of each step: imagine you’re pushing past a velvet curtain here, this arm is hanging straight down because your diamond bracelet is so heavy, this passé turn is you seeing a speakeasy door as you walk by... etc. There is a wealth of knowledge being passed onto us and it’s thrilling. We go back to run the number and out of nowhere, that instantly recognizable, clarion belt calls from the corner where, unbeknownst to us, Sutton Foster has snuck in and decided to sing along. We keep dancing, but the energy has suddenly shifted, there’s a shimmer in the air, and as we move forward it’s not lost on us that something very special is happening.
Everyone in this room has done a production of Thoroughly Modern Millie at some point in their life. It’s the one thing that connects us- whether it was in high school, college, on tour, regionally... We all know the material, but our knowledge of the material isn’t why we’re here, they tell us. Of course, it helps that we all know the music, but more than that we all share a common joy. Millie is a show that sparkles like a glass of freshly poured champagne. It is aspiration, it is determination, it is humility, true love and intrigue with a little just desserts thrown in for fun. Having been in the show before makes us uniquely able to take part in this reunion while representing, in a way, the life the show has had beyond its Broadway Run.
The show started previews in 2002 about six months after 9/11, and at the time it provided an escape from a reality that a lot of people didn’t want to face. It would be safe to say that the timing of this reunion concert will do the same for some.
Personally, this is my fourth time stepping into 1922. The first being straight out of college, joining the non union, one nighter, bus and truck tour. THAT was a learning experience, one that all actors should have, in my opinion... At the time, I remember listening to the original cast album on repeat, trying desperately to replicate Gavin Creel’s silky blend of chest and head voice- something I’m still trying to do today understudying him at Hello, Dolly! Over the years I’ve had the great fortune of working with Rob, Chris and JoAnn on various projects, but today, being in the room with all three of them and stepping back in time is slightly blowing my mind. For most of us in the “Millie Reunion” ensemble, the thought of revisiting this show in the same room as the original cast members and learning the original choreography from the creators made us giddy, but we quickly realized we weren’t alone. That excitement and wistful nostalgia was on the face of every person who walked into the room. They were as excited to revisit the material as we were to learn it.
And that was just day one.