The company of Thoroughly Modern Millie, the new Dick Scanlan-Jeanine Tesori Broadway musical inspired by the 1967 movie musical of the same name, heads into the recording studio April 22 to preserve the score on a cast album by RCA Victor.
Jay David Saks will produce the disc, which gets recorded four days after the April 18 Broadway opening of the Jazz Age-set musical comedy. Saks produced the recent Urinetown cast album, among many others. The musical opened to largely positive reviews.
Composer Tesori and lyricist Scanlan have written a new score for the story about a newcomer to New York City in 1922. The stage show retains "Jimmy" (by Jay Thompson, sweetened by Tesori and Scanlan) and the title tune (by James Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn) from the movie, and explodes with muscular, new, period-style songs, including "Forget About the Boy," "What Do I Need With Love," "Only in New York" and "Not for the Life of Me." Classic songs have been slightly rewritten and interpolated: Victor Herbert's "I'm Falling in Love With Someone," a Gilbert and Sullivan patter song from Ruddigore, a piece from "The Nutcracker" (under a dance set in a speakeasy) and a hilarious classic song now under the title of "Muqin." (To give the last song away spoils the fun.) In previews, a song called "Ain't No Prohibition on Romance" was cut and replaced by "Long as I'm Here With You." The latter will be recorded; the former goes into the trunk. Ralph Burns (Chicago) and Doug Besterman get credit for the orchestrations. It would be one of Burns' final projects — he died in 2001. The album's release date is set for June 11.
Lyricist Scanlan, a novelist, writer and journalist who initiated Millie over the last decade (and penned the libretto with the film's screenwriter, Richard Morris) said he took inspiration from the lyricist Lorenz Hart, who was working with Richard Rodgers in the 1920s. "Often if you write witty and clever lyrics that are really adept at language, you lose a little bit of heart," observed Scanlan. "And often when you write very heartfelt lyrics, you lose a little bit of wit and cleverness. Hart could do both at the same time, in a way that no one else could. He could break your heart and do it with such sophistication."
Scanlan, who does not have a major credit as a theatre lyricist, shows in his work that perfect rhymes and craft are important — just as they were to Hart, Ira Gershwin and others of the golden age of pre-Rodgers and Hammerstein American musicals. "I choose to hold myself to the older standard which is the right one for me," Scanlan said. "I think pop writers are not even trying to do what I do. I don't think they're lazy, they have a whole different set of rules. They are just not my rules."
Tesori, who scored the critically acclaimed cult musical, Violet (with lyricist Brian Crawley), said she didn't listen to Kern and Gershwin and Rodgers. That stuff is already in her head. "What I tend to do on projects is I do a whole lot of listening for some weeks and then I put it away," Tesori said. "For me, it was more about the dance bands of the period. I listened to the early Louis Armstrong. It's fresh, his take on music."
One thing to remember about this production is that it's not your mother's Millie: It may take characters and elements of the 1967 film's story, but the score is 90 percent new. Some theatregoers still wrongly refer to the show as a revival. It's not. The property began as a film, and the print ads for the show have tried to emphasize that it's a big, brand-new musical comedy.
"It's so different than the 'Millie' movie," director Michael Mayer admitted. "The heart of the play is the same as the movie. It's the basic story, and they do tap dance in the elevator — the things people know about the film are there. But the movie is used as the shell of an idea. We're using it as source material — it's not trying to take the movie and put it on stage. We're only using two-and-a-half songs from the movie."
Sutton Foster plays a young woman named Millie Dillmount who reinvents herself in an era of great cultural change in America. Among the characters she meets along the way are love interest Jimmy (Gavin Creel), fellow hotel resident Miss Dorothy (Angela Christian), serious bachelor businessman Trevor Graydon (Marc Kudisch), corrupt hotelier Mrs. Meers (Harriet Harris), Chinese immigrants Bun Foo (Francis Jue) and Ching Ho (Ken Leung), Josephine Baker-style diva Muzzy Van Hossmere (Sheryl Lee Ralph) and Miss Flannery (Anne L. Nathan), the steno-pool matron who gets what's likely to be a show-stopping tap break. Thoroughly Modern Millie has been nominated for eight Outer Critics Circle Awards, the first nominations of the season.
Thoroughly Modern Millie is presented by Michael Leavitt, Fox Theatricals and Hal Luftig, with Stewart F. Lane, James L. Nederlander, Independent Presenters Network, John York Noble, Libby Adler Mages/Mari Glick and Whoopi Goldber. For tickets, call (212) 307-4100, or in person at the Marquis Theatre box office (1535 Broadway at 46th Street).