November 1, 2007

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First times
Actorsingers brings Thoroughly Modern Millie to Nashua
By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

Actorsingers, Nashua’s 52-year-old community musical theater company, is racking up a number of firsts this fall. This is the first time Thoroughly Modern Millie, which won a Tony for best musical in 2002, will be staged in southern New Hampshire, said director Paul Metzger. It’s also the first time Manchester’s Marisa Roberge performs with Actorsingers. It might also be the first time Keefe Auditorium audiences watch actors tap dance in a moving elevator on stage.

Roberge plays lead role Millie Dillmount, a Kansas girl who moves to New York in 1922 looking for a new life. Actorsingers promotes Millie as a “fun family show.”

“It does take place during Prohibition but there are no gangsters; no one is getting shot. It’s more about the emergence of women’s independence at that time,” Metzger said. Women are just entering the workforce. Millie wants to “make it big and find a rich husband,” Metzger said. “Well, she thinks that’s what she wants. But the storyline does evolve from that.”

Millie is “one of the best female Broadway roles that there is, I think.... It combines singing and dancing and comedy,” Roberge said. That’s actually a rare combination these days, she explained.

“It’s just a good old-fashioned musical,” Roberge said. Plays written in the 2000s like Wicked or Rent don’t feature the throwback musical comedy Millie does or as much dance. The tap featured in Millie is now unique, Roberge said.

“The costume designer has just gone out of her way,” Roberge said. Millie has about 10 costume changes.

Metzger said the play’s many scene changes challenged his team. Their other challenge is that two “Oriental” characters in the 39-member cast must speak and sing in Chinese while an English translation is projected. No Chinese-speakers auditioned, so Actorsingers found a consultant to help with the language.

This is actually a second for Metzger’s production team, who produced Cats for Actorsingers in 2006. His wife, choreographer Donna O’Bryant Metzger, music director Judy Hayward, set designers and others are back. They have a great time working together — and since it’s community theater, “If you’re not having a good time, it’s not worth doing it,” Metzger said.

Cats was well-received. The Friends of the Concord City Auditorium brought the production to their venue. Scenic design, costumes and choreography won NH Theater Awards.

“Actorsingers does have a really good reputation of setting the bar high and producing really good-quality shows ... I think people are expecting that from Thoroughly Modern Millie,” Metzger said.

Roberge won a NH Theater Award for best actress for her performance in New Thalian’s Hot Mikado last year. The one-woman show Musical Mom, which her husband Kevin produced, won best original musical review. Marisa and Kevin worked as professional actors in New York City for five years. Marisa has a degree in theater from Cornell University and taught vocal workshops at Walt Disney World. Yet for all that, she said, “The theater community here is one of the most supportive theater communities I’ve ever run into.”

Roberge doesn’t act professionally these days because she can’t be away from her children, she said.

“I love musical theater. That’s what I love to do,” Roberge said. Kevin performed in several Actorsinger shows. Marisa takes occasional commercial work and you can see the Roberge’s enlarged on the Hooksett IMAX screen in a car dealership ad.

Millie is based on a 1967 movie musical with Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore, but “the movie is not so great,” Metzger said.

Music for the Broadway show is by Jeanine Tesori, lyrics are by Dick Scanlan, and the book is by Richard Morris and Scanlan.


Thoroughly Modern Millie
When: Friday, Nov. 9, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 10, at 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 11, at 2 p.m.
Where: Keefe Auditorium at Elm Street Middle School, 117 Elm St., Nashua
Tickets: $18 or $15 for students, seniors or groups
More info: Go to www.actorsingers.org or call 320-1870..