Ever wonder why a particular breed of woman in the 1920s who rebelled against traditional and conservative conventions was called a “flapper.” This is not the place to answer that question. Thoroughly Modern Millie will do the job, however, along with answering a great many other questions about the raucous roaring 20’s. When it comes to Broadway musicals about the Jazz Age the iconic ideal is that one with all the jazz hands about that gal that killed that fella and met that other gal in that prison near—what’s the place—oh yeah, Chicago.
While Bob Fosse’s direction and choreography made Chicago a glimpse into the 1920s that would eventually take home the Oscar that A Chorus Line did not (after A Chorus Line beat out Chicago for the Tony), it is not nearly as expansive a treatment on the period as Thoroughly Modern Millie.
For one thing, that “Modern” is not just a commentary on the modernity of the Flapper sensibility, but a commentary upon the Modernism movement in the arts which marks Jazz Age literature. Speaking of literature, attendance will also be helped by first acquiring at least a passing familiarity with F. Scott Fitzgerald and Dorothy Parker. You might also want to catch up on your knowledge of George Gershwin. In addition, the 1920’s that unfolds over the course of this truly engaging musical with snappy jazzy numbers and the occasional Charleston is one that speaks to dawn of the 2020’s: anti-immigrant racism and a looming sense of approaching doom with the capacity to destroy everything America stands for.
Don’t let the darkness drive you away, however, and keep in mind that America did manage to come back from the devastation following the 1920s so it is at least possible it could come back from any future devastation. In addition, there is much about Millie as an icon of rebellion and revolution that should by all accounts make her just as much an icon 100 years after the events of the narrative as she was in the 1960s when the musical took Broadway by storm and was later adapted into one of the last of the classic Hollywood musical motion pictures with the immensely appealing and talented Julie Andrew assaying the role in the prime of her career. The story of a small town girl rejecting the idea of marrying for love to come to the big scene in order to marry for money is based on a British play titled Chrysanthemum and though it may seem to contradict the very basis of most dramatic conceits of the time, the placement of gold over love is an accurate reflection of the subversive qualities associated with the Flapper philosophy.