Le Bar Bat may not quite pass as a 1922 speakeasy, but for all intents and purposes the Manhattan hot spot was home to le jazz hot May 21 when Thoroughly Modern Millie first gave a sneak peek at her "girl in the red dress."
Sutton Foster, in scarlet flapper wear, introduced several of the new musical's new and old tunes from the Le Bar Bat's main stage. Thoroughly Modern Millie, originally a 1967 Julie Andrews film, has the perfect Academy Award-nominated introduction song already written - by Jimmy van Heusen and Sammy Cahn, no less - and it was on "Thoroughly Modern Millie" that Foster and her chorus of boys and girls in black first entered. In the jazzy song, Millie encourages the audience to "check your personality" and introduces them to her new home where "sex and booze/jazz and blues/we don't know what to choose/that's how we live in Manhattan."
When the stage cleared of chorines, Foster sat on the bar to deliver her 11 o'clock number, "Gimme Gimme." The number, which starts out as a quiet contemplation of her options ("marry well or pin my future on the boy I love"), builds to a demand for "a love affair like Scott and Zelda's," for "happy ever after" and for "fat boy's famous arrow."
"Forget About the Boy," the final number presented opens the second act, as Millie and friends swear off the men they are seeing to a tap beat (choreography is by Rob Ashford, whose credits include Time and Again and Tenderloin at City Center). "When he comes crawlin'/I'm not fallin'," they promise in this original number by Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlon.
Following the numbers, Tony-nominated director Michael Mayer spoke briefly, introducing a video presentation by "Caryn Johnson." That's the real name of filmdom's Whoopi Goldberg who sang her own introduction to "Thoroughly Modern Millie," culminating in the line "Give us your money." Goldberg, an Academy Award winner for "Ghost," is one of the show's producers and joked in the presentation about taking a role - perhaps Millie - in the show. "I can look like Holly Hunter if I want to," she said. She went on to describe the show as full of "high style and sheer silly" with a mixture of classic 20's tunes and new numbers from Tesori and Scanlon.
When the video presentation ended, two of the "less well known" producers Hal Luftig and Michael Leavitt hinted that there was more casting news to come, aside from Foster who will repeat her role as Millie. Since contracts haven't been signed, they'd only hint.
Let the speculating begin - they promise the return of a Tony Award-winning actress to the Broadway stage and an actress who starred in one of Broadway's most beloved shows, but would say no more. Wild conjecture has suggested that perhaps producer Goldberg is interested in returning to Broadway where she starred as Pseudolus in a gender-bending turn in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum>
Thoroughly Modern Millie, that modern 20's flapper, will open at a still unannounced Shubert house (soon to be announced, one presumes, with so many recent Broadway closings) Nov. 15. Previews begin Oct. 16.
In La Jolla, Millie first looked troubled, with a week of previews cancelled because of set difficulties, including a turntable malfunctioning. That problem followed the loss of the show's star, Erin Dilly, who was then replaced by Foster. Dilly herself had been a replacement for Kristen Chenoweth, who quit the show for her pending TV series.
Those troubles cleared the morning after Oct. 22, when positive reviews from the San Diego Union-Tribune and the Los Angeles Times and a rave from Variety appeared, sending the "modern" flapper on her way to Broadway. The hit La Jolla world premiere ran from Oct. 10 through Dec. 10 in a special two week extension.
After several canceled previews, the new musical, Thoroughly Modern Millie, first played before an audience Oct. 6 at the La Jolla Playhouse, but the performance turned out to be something of a concert version.
Technical problems prevented a full performance, so cast members — miked and costumed — played the show as a kind of scriptless staged reading, sitting in chairs, according to a production source. The full opening number was performed and then the chairs were brought out, apparently to the delight of the Southern California audience, who seemed to enjoy being part of the unique and bumpy process of putting a new musical together.
“The audience laughed their heads off and gave us a standing ovation,” said one member of the production. “It was really encouraging.”
Earlier, Millie suffered another setback — the loss of star Erin Dilly. The young actress, who made a splash in Babes in Arms and Martin Guerre, was set to perform the title role in the La Jolla Playhouse production, but several production meetings later, she and the creative team determined that Dilly would not be able to continue with the show.
Dilly was the second actress to bow out of playing the "modern" flapper; Chenoweth was originally chosen for the role but went to Hollywood for a sitcom deal instead.
Replacing Dilly was Foster. Foster's Broadway credits include Eponine in Les Miserables, Sandy in Grease!, the Star to Be in the Annie revival and a role in The Scarlet Pimpernel. She performed at San Diego’s Old Globe in What the World Needs Now, toured in The Will Rogers Follies and was a Star Search ’91 teen vocalist winner.
Foster joined Tonya Pinkins as the socialite Muzzy. A Tony Award winner for Jelly's Last Jam, Pinkins has starred on Broadway in Play On! (Tony nomination) and The Wild Party.
Also in the La Jolla cast were Marc Kudisch (The Wild Party, The Scarlet Pimpernel) as Millie's boss, Mr. Trevor Graydon (he has gone on to play Faith Prince's playwright love interest in Bells Are Ringing), Jim Stanek (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Indiscretions) as Millie's boyfriend Jimmy Smith, Sarah Uriarte Berry (Les Miserables, Beauty and the Beast) as Miss Dorothy, Millie's best friend, Stephen Sable (Privates on Parade) as the lovesick Ching Ho, Frances Jue (M. Butterfly) as Bun Foo, an immigrant desperate to make it in America and Anne L. Nathan (Ragtime) as Miss Flannery, Graydon's office manager.
The ensemble featured Randl Ask, Kate Baldwin, Joshua Bergasse, Zina Camblin, Julie Connors, David Eggers, Nicole Foret, Matt Gasper, Gregg Goodbrod, Matt Lashey, Joe Langworth, Michael Malone, Yusef Miller, Tina Ou, Noah Racey, Megan Sikora, Chane't Johnson and Leigh-Anne Wencker.
Director Michael Mayer is a Tony nominee for A View from the Bridge and You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown> He helmed the recent Broadway productions of Uncle Vanya and Side Man and will head up the Roundabout's 2000-2001 production of Heather McDonald's An Almost Holy Picture.
Millie designers are David Gallo (sets), Robert Perdziola (costumes), Donald Holder (lighting) and Otts Munderloh (sound). Michael Rafter is the musical director, with Tony and Academy Award winner Ralph Burns doing the orchestrations.
Thoroughly Modern Millie is based on the 1967 film musical comedy directed by George Roy Hill. The picture, a 1920s spoof, starred Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore, Beatrice Lillie, John Gavin, James Fox, Carol Channing, Jack Soo and Pat Morita.
Two of the film's comic pastiche songs ("Jimmy" and "Thoroughly Modern Millie"), in the style of The Boyfriend, are being used in the stage version, with new tunes by composer Tesori (Violet and Lincoln Center Theatre's Twelfth Night) and lyricist Scanlan.
The libretto is by Richard Morris and Scanlan, based on Morris' original story and screenplay. Screenwriter Morris died in 1996 after completing work on the script with Scanlan.