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From the director's perspective

East Troy High School's "Thoroughly Modern Millie" runs Nov. 9-11

Donna Lenz Wright/The Week

(Published Nov. 7, 2007, 1:43 p.m.)

Members of the cast rehearse a song with choreographer Josie Monahan, far left.

Twice a year our area’s high schools put their best foot forward to bring audiences a stage show that they’ve worked on for months.

Directors take a lot of time choosing which plays will work best for their players. They have to consider the unique capabilities of their specific actors and actresses, set designers, costume makers, stage equipment and a million other details.

Rotating types of performances as each group progresses through their high school years is a given for our area’s high school drama instructors.

They choose shows to teach their students about special effects, like this season’s Badger and Whitewater’s “The Wizard of Oz;” the lessons of simpler sets and more difficult scripts like D-DHS’s “Check Please;” or a good ol’ whodunit like Elkhorn’s “You Have the Right to Remain Dead.”

Director Brian Wegener chose “Thoroughly Modern Millie” especially for this year’s East Troy High School players for several reasons.

The story of Millie Dillmount, a fearless young lady fresh from Salina, Kan., who sets out to see the world in the rip-roaring ‘20s, has lots of ingredients that will let his cast and crew shine.

“(This show has a) slightly odd history,” Wegener begins. “Most musicals begin as stage plays for the live theater. Later they are transplanted around the country, first as touring shows, then as material for community theaters and high schools like ours. Somewhere in the process, a few of these musicals inspire movies.”

“Thoroughly Modern Millie” actually began as a Hollywood movie in 1967 and didn’t go to a Broadway stage until 2002.

“And when they did, it had so many changes and improvements that a comparison with the ‘60s film is almost pointless. The stage play seems like a brand new story, which makes it a challenge for a director in a way that a time-tested well-known one is not.”

Roles are another huge challenge for directors. Most musicals generally have 15 to 20 speaking parts, with more of them being for male characters.

“It’s one of the most frustrating problems faced by high school directors of musicals,” he said.

Most of the time, girls outnumber the guys at auditions and roles for guys outnumber the girls’.

“Meanwhile a precious few of the males who are there are genuinely interested in playing a large featured role,” he said. “Some of the guys are there because they have been recruited, or perhaps conned.

“Let’s face it, some of the guys are there, well, because of the girls who are there. We make no apology for this last one. In fact, it is our chief ‘recruiting’ tactic,” he jokes.

“There have been years when we literally had to drag the halls for guys.”

Wegener chose Millie specifically because there are more than a dozen strong female roles while the males competed for two, he said.

 “It was my hope that this would make the casting decisions—usually the single most difficult and important part of my job—a little easier and a little less painful.

“Maybe it did, but only a little. There are still girls who could be in bigger parts than they are. Actually, I could have cast the female speaking roles at least twice over and done the show two different ways with two different casts.”

Each show has its own challenges with its own lessons. By the time our high school drama students experience several rounds of seasons, they’ve learned every aspect of theater there is to offer.

East Troy High School presents “Thoroughly Modern Millie” Nov. 9--10 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 11 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $4 for students and $6 for adults in advance, and $5 for students and $7 for adults at the door. For more information, call 642-6760 ext. 223.

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