FDSH presents a thoroughly modern musical

Marrying for money is Millie’s idea of a modern goal.

This year’s Fort Dodge Senior High musical, “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” will welcome the audience into the the Roaring ’20s, when jazz music was the modern sound and women were beginning to assert their rights and independence.

The show follows a small-town Kansas girl who travels to New York City to land herself a wealthy husband, said vocal instructor Joe Svendsen.

“She thinks this is a very modern concept of what a woman should do for a relationship,” Svendsen said. “She’s a flapper girl, which at that time was very out there and rebellious, and thought of as being risky.”

She moves to the big city to find her way, Svendsen said. Along that journey, she falls in with some shady characters, and eventually “comes to realize that what she wants isn’t exactly what she thought she wanted.”

Set in 1922, the musical opened on Broadway in 2002, loosely based on a movie by the same name from 1967, starring Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore and Carol Channing. Its examination of modern women and empowerment is still relevant today, said Svendsen.

“Certainly I think today we as a society are trying to decide what it means to be a modern woman, what it means for a woman to be independent and strong,” he said. “You know in 1922, it comes right on heels of women’s suffrage. It deals with a time when women were asserting their collective voting power and rights as citizens for first time in big way.

“I think today women are still exploring what it means to be modern, and to maintain their sense of identity while also feeling empowered, I think its a very relevant issue to modern women.”

Another modern issue is human trafficking.

“Our villain is a human trafficker. She’s selling orphan girls to a guy in China,” said Mary Jo Laupp, choral department accompanist. “This cast is a pretty socially aware cast, so we’re asking the audience members to bring donations, and the money will go to the A21 campaign.

“The money will go to things like educating girls about what ploys traffickers use, as well as taking care of girls in rescue and rehab houses that have actually been rescued,” she said. “It will also provide funds to prosecute those guilty of trafficking.”

Laupp said 27 million people are in slavery worldwide, more than at any other time in history.

“Since the storyline includes that, we thought it was a good tie-in to do something positive for those in need,” she said.

Sarah Amhof and Jamilia Shing-Hon both appreciated the project. Amhof plays Millie, while Shing-Hon plays Miss Dorothy Brown, a rich girl who wants to see the world from a different view and ends up paying Millie’s rent.

Amhof said they have to carry themselves differently to portray the time period.

“They don’t cross their arms much, or pump their hips,” she said.

“Old silent films really help, if you watch them,” said Shing-Hon.

Svendsen said this was a good show for his students because no other group in Fort Dodge has done it yet. Plus he’s looking for a show that involves “as many students as possible.”

“This show doesn’t have that many songs for chorus, but there a lot of things for the chorus to do,” he said. “There are dance numbers, and group scenes.

“From a technical standpoint, the songs in this show are the ’20s, speakeasy jazz styles of singing, so there are a lot of tight harmonies, and challenging chromatics for singers and instrumentalists alike,” he said.

“And there’s quite a bit of dancing. The students are no stranger to dancing, but this is the first time we’ve done a show that has this much of it, in a long time. That’s been a interesting challenge, but they’ve been up to it.”

“I love all the dancing,” said Amhof. “It is so much fun, and it’s a lot different from anything else that we’ve done. There’s tap dancing in this show, and I don’t think the Senior High’s ever done a show with tap dancing. It’s really high energy.”

Freshman Hankel Haldin said putting the dancing together with the singing is tough, but a lot of fun.

“I like the era, especially the music. It’s kind of upbeat and interesting,” he said.

Haldin performs in the choir, but also serves as the understudy for one of the male lead characters, Jimmy Smith.

“Part of being an understudy that’s really great is you get to step into those lead roles, but when you’re not needed for that you can be in the background dancing and singing,” said Haldin. “It’s really, I’d say the best part of any of the parts.”