‘Modern Millie’ dances on stage with Jazz Age style

Written By Adelyn Biedenbach

 Millie Dillmount reaches New York City in the midst of the roaring twenties, where pixie style haircuts, the women’s revolution and the Charleston reign.            The change she discovers mirrors that of Jessica Ernest, who is not only about to graduate and enter the world of theater, but also plays Millie in the Pittsburgh Playhouse’s production of “Thorough Modern Millie,” opening Oct. 29.            “It’s an incredible role. She goes through such a process and change, its nice to do my senior year,” said Ernest, a senior musical theater major.            The production embodies all of the energy and excitement that existed in America in the 1920s. It debuted on Broadway in April of 2002, and is based on the 1967 film, which bears the same name and stars Julie Andrews. The play was written by Richard Morris, with lyrics by Dick Scanlan and music by Jeanine Tesori.            “It is actually a really cool project. ‘Style’ is the big word in terms of acting, singing and dancing,” said Jaron Frand, a junior musical theater major.            Frand plays Jimmy Smith, Millie’s eventual love interest.            “He’s a tough cookie, he’s a New Yorker, and he may not be the usual romantic lead at first,” Frand said.            Rehearsals began in mid-September giving the cast about five weeks to complete production.            Point Park University’s production is directed by Scott Wise.            “Scott is such a great leader, he sets the bar high and the cast needs to meet him there,” said Frand.            Ernest said the aspect of Point Park’s “Thoroughly Modern Millie” that really stands out is the dancing.            “The show was originally done with two tap production numbers and I have added more with the belief that tap can be as much a storytelling tool as jazz or ballet.  I’m not going to give it all away, but [there are] some concepts and elements that I’m really excited about,” said Jeremy Czarniak, the show’s choreographer, in an e-mail interview.            “We are tap dancing our little hearts out,” Frand said.            Tap dancing and 1920s vaudeville styles take to the stage and give the production an authentic period feel.            “Tap has been [my] passion all my life, so an opportunity to work on a show like this has been extraordinary,” said Czarniak, who teaches in both the musical theater and dance departments of the Conservatory of the Performing Arts.             In addition to all of the dancing, the musical is jam-packed with energy, reflective of the women’s rights movement of the time.            “I secretly wish that I was alive in the ‘20s. It was such a revolution for women,” Ernest said.            She admits to enjoying the experience of wearing the short haired wig and tap dancing while behind a desk.  At one point in the production, nine desks are wheeled out and the performers tap dance behind them Ernest says that working out the ‘deskography’ was challenging.            The cast is made up of about 28 performers, and at one point all of them are tap dancing at once.             “We give out a lot of energy,” Ernest said. “I want to see if the audience will reciprocate.”            “Thoroughly Modern Millie” runs at the Rockwell Theater of the Pittsburgh Playhouse from Oct. 29 to Nov. 7, with a special preview show on Oct. 28. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays the show begins at 8 p.m. and there is a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.            Nov. 5 is a “Girl’s Night Out” according to the Playhouse’s website, and reservations are required.            Tickets are $20 for evening shows or $18 for matinees. Student tickets are $8 or $7, and some are reserved for Point Park students with proper identification. They can be purchased by visiting pittsburghplayhouse.com or calling 412-392-8000.             “I think audiences can expect that vibrancy, colorfulness and electricity of a true…American musical,” Frand said. “It’s just fun when you get down to it.”