OLD SAYBROOK — Old Saybrook Senior High School students have been practicing their tap dancing and hair bobs for a production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” a musical set in the Jazz Age, opening March 12.
“The story itself is pretty traditional musical theater… naive young girl comes to New York hoping to find a man and her goal is to marry the boss,” said director Lenore Grunko, an adjunct theater lecturer at Eastern Connecticut State University. “And then there’s a subplot that gets very convoluted where she’s staying in a hotel with a hotel owner who’s running a white slavery ring so it gets really wackadoodle. I’m trying to keep my sights on the dance and the talent that we pick the show for.”
The show will run on four dates over three days from March 12 to March 14, with 7:30 p.m. showings on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, as well as an additional 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday. Tickets are $15 for the general public or $10 for students and seniors, and they’re at the door or online at showtix4u.com.
Grunko said the show has a heavy focus on dancing and choreography, while also giving the students and the audience a taste of 1922, with speakeasies, flappers, and the Charleston just about to become the nation’s newest outrageous dance.
Students have been rehearsing about five days a week since mid-December, Grunko said. Auditions were held shortly before the premiere of their fall play, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
“When it comes time to running the show, it’s all kids,” Grunko said. “I’m not backstage. There’s no adult backstage. The kids are in change.”
Students will manage the lighting, the set, hair and makeup, although Grunko noted that the orchestra of 10 to 14 musicians will include some hired professionals.
“It’s a small school so the problem is that many of the really talented musicians are actors and singers as well,” she said. “They have to choose and usually they choose to be on the stage.”
Senior Maggie Maselli was one of two students who lead choreography for the play and also plays the character Miss Dorothy.
“It’s tricky fitting everyone on the stage and trying to get everyone to do the same thing at the same time,” Maselli said, “but I think what’s great is that everyone wants to be here so they’re willing to improve any little thing to make sure we have the best show we can possibly have.”
Grunko said her hope is for the drama club students to come away with an appreciation for theater and dance, as well as strong skills in communication and working under pressure.
“You want something that’s challenging but you want them to be able to reach that challenge,” she said.
Sophomore Coco Morin plays jazz singer Muzzy van Hossmere.
“I like being able to be a different character,” Morin said. “In this play my character is always happy and peppy, so even if I’m in a bad mood from the day it takes me away from that.”
Senior Ian Mason plays the male lead Jimmy Smith.
“I’ve been an ensemble member most my years in high school,” he said. “This is my first lead role so it’s been building confidence up to this. It’s nice to see that I’m not the scared little kid in the back row of Mr Milton’s chorus class in sixth grade.”
Choral teacher Jeremy Milton provides music direction for the show and art teacher Sara Menga led students in painting the set as technical director.
“It’s a family friendly show and the dancing and the music is fabulous. And honestly when you see kids act on stage and dance on stage, that’s a thrill.” Grunko said. “They’re a joy to watch, and it’s a different experience from staying home and streaming. It gets you out. And this is one of those shows where you will walk out the door tapping and humming, because there are a lot of tunes that will worm their way into your head.”