Filichia Features: Millie's Thoroughly Successful Benefit

Filichia Features: Millie's Thoroughly Successful Benefit

By Peter Filichia on February 15, 2018

It was the longest-ever performance of Thoroughly Modern Millie, and the audience didn’t mind at all.

In fact, the Monday capacity crowd at the Minskoff Theatre was greatly responsible for the show’s two-hour, 47-minute running time.

This concert performance of the 2001-2002 Tony-winning musical – a benefit for The Actors Fund – brought out all the fans who’d loved it once (or more times) as well as those who weren’t lucky enough to see Sutton Foster in the role that made her a Best Actress in a Musical Tony-winner and a great big Broadway star.

So when Foster casually entered from stage left, she wasn’t the only one on her feet. A standing ovation greeted her. She’d get another one after doing Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan’s “Forget about the Boy” and the loudest one still after their “Gimme, Gimme.”

And yet, what moved me the most was the moment after Millie proved to Trevor Graydon that she was a stenographer extraordinaire and he sang “You have made the team!” That must have brought Foster back to the autumn of 2000 after she’d made the Thoroughly Modern Millie team for the La Jolla Playhouse production -- but only as an understudy.

When the day came for the first La Jolla run-through, the actress who was to portray Millie Dillmount had vocal problems and couldn’t do the show. Foster knew the songs and sang them strong, but didn’t know the dialogue, so when she had to read her lines, she held a script – which no one held against her. Foster was soon told that she was now the team’s new star.

Two years before this, Kristin Chenoweth had told me she’d been offered Millie but might not take it. Chenoweth was already on the fast track to stardom with a Featured Musical Actress Tony for Charlie Brown, so one can understand why Millie’s creators wanted her. But all this brings up a good point about casting.

Directors, you’ve probably got your own Kristin Chenoweth in your drama club, afterschool group, community or college theater. She’s played Maria in your West Side Story, The Sound of Music, Twelfth Night and Master Class. This miss is a good ol’ reliable and you often specifically choose a show because you know she’d be great in the lead.

But is there someone else who’s been in the background and might make a splash?

Please keep an open mind when casting. When I was working with a high school drama club, we chose Harvey for a young man we’d worked with for years for we knew he’d be a fine Elwood P. Dowd. Nevertheless, we auditioned everyone who wanted to try out and wouldn’t you know – here comes the biggest cliché of all, but a true story – the last person to audition was even better and got the part.

That brings up someone who was in the original Millie ensemble and returned to her “role” in the reunion concert: Kate Baldwin is now a two-time Tony-nominee who’s currently featured in Hello, Dolly! When offered the chance to return to her unceremonious role, she could have begged off, saying it was her one night off a week. That Baldwin didn’t decline told us a great deal about her gratitude and loyalty.

I also wondered what was going through two heads when Jimmy told Millie “You’ve come a long way.” After all, that was precisely true of Gavin Creel as well as Foster. Since getting a Tony nomination for Jimmy, he got another for Hair and another still for the aforementioned Dolly! – only this time he won.

At the start of Act Two, Millie is determined to “Forget about the Boy” but the audience certainly didn’t forget about Creel, who received generous entrance applause that gave him no doubt that he’d come a long way, too. Matching him handclap for handclap were Harriet Harris (once again the evil Mrs. Meers), Sheryl Lee Ralph (the eccentric but good-natured Muzzie Van Hossmere) and Marc Kudisch (the four-square Trevor Graydon).

They weren’t the only original cast members that we saw. On hand were of 22 out of the 30 that had opened at the Marquis 16 years ago. Some had been promoted to bigger roles – Megan Sikora now played Miss Dorothy and Darrin Lee was the new Ching Ho.

And tapping away with the rest of the ensemble was Casey Nicholaw. Millie gave him his eighth minor role in a Broadway show; could he have imagined then that he’d have his name in a directorial and choreographic capacity at three theaters – the ones hosting The Book of Mormon, Aladdin and the upcoming Mean Girls?

Moral of the story? When a chorus boy comes up to you and says he’d like to direct and choreograph, don’t dismiss him out of hand. He may just have a few ideas that will turn out to be stageworthy. All director-choreographers have to start somewhere, and most start where Nicholaw did.

Thanks to its four fat parts for women, many think that Thoroughly Modern Millie is a girlie show (in the nicest sense, of course). No: Jimmy and Trevor are fine roles, too. The latter gets a chance to sing genuine operetta via “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life” and “I’m Falling in Love with Someone.” Dated stuff? On Monday the audience went as wild for those as for all the other songs. Many numbers got the best kind of applause an audience can give. It starts, builds, subsides and then gets louder and stronger than it was originally.

Even some of the show’s lines got applause – including one that was especially notable. It was there in the 1967 film, courtesy of screenwriter Richard Morris, but it had far more relevance now.

After Millie virtually threw herself at Trevor, she asked “What’s your opinion of brute force?” to which he said “I’m not for it. Not for it at all. That is not what women want today.” Considering what been in the news week after week, we all had to applaud in approval of that sentiment.

You’ll probably get applause on that line, too, even without the original cast members on hand.

You may e-mail Peter at Check out his weekly column each Monday at and Tuesday at His book, The Great Parade: Broadway’s Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at