‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ gets ready to roar

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published August 2, 2017

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Kansas native Millie Dillmount arrives in New York City to start a new life as the Roaring 1920s build steam in “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” which the Heart of the Hills Players are bringing to the stage.

Leaving her former self behind, Millie sets her sights on becoming a flapper and finding a wealthy husband. The sounds of jazz, raised hemlines and Millie’s job as a stenographer set the tone as “‘Thoroughly Modern Millie” unfolds Aug. 10-13 at the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts, located on Macomb Community College’s Center Campus at 44575 Garfield Road in Clinton Township.

Showtimes will be 2 p.m. Aug. 10-11, 7:30 p.m. Aug. 12 and 3 p.m. Aug. 13. The Heart of the Hills Players consists of local residents ages 50 and older brought together by their love of theater. The group rehearses at the Disabled American Veterans Hall in Shelby Township.

“Thoroughly Modern Millie” is based on the 1967 Academy Award-winning film, and Sutton Foster, formerly of  Troy, won a Tony award in 2002 for her role in the Broadway version. Songs include “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “Forget About the Boy,” and “Gimme Gimme.”

Lorrie Garrison, 64, was cast as hometown girl Millie, who transforms from frumpy to fabulous as she meets a man named Jimmy Smith.

“She comes to New York and wants to be modern,” the Rochester Hills resident said. “She wants to marry a rich man but falls in love with someone she thinks is poor.”

As she settles into her new life, Millie learns the truth about her man, Jimmy Smith, and his money. To transform herself into Millie, Garrison is pulling from her own “poor background.”

“I can relate to Millie. I lived a sheltered life as a girl. I can pull from my experiences,” Garrison said. “I try to become the character. I am no longer me.”

Audience members will be treated to Garrison’s vocal talent as she performs nine songs, some as solos and some as duets. Garrison joined the acting troupe 10 years ago and also performs with other groups.

“When I come back here, I am always welcomed with open arms,” Garrison said. “People make me feel like this is family.”

The “worldly” Jimmy Smith comes to life through the acting chops of the Rev. Larry Hooks, of Eastpointe. And it seems opposites attract. Although Jimmy Smith comes from wealth, his mom wants him to learn more about the world.

“My mother puts me out on the street with $25,” Hooks said of his character. “Being from a rich family, I was just the opposite of Millie.”

Hooks, 75, said a love affair happens between the two.

“Love just drew me to her,” Hooks.

Performing as a chorus member is “a dream come true” for Grosse Pointe Park resident Judy Kerman.

“I am finally performing onstage. I like the light on me. It gives me a high,” Kerman said. “Here I am at 65-plus tap dancing onstage. It’s a wonderful thing to be in this creative atmosphere.”

Kerman began dance lessons as a young girl and continued dancing throughout her 20s. Her older sister, Dolores Steele, was her first dance instructor. Kerman recalled that within six months of lessons, she could dance en pointe.

“It was second nature to me,” she said.

She stopped dancing for many years. The stage now belongs to her and is a reminder of those early years with Steele, who passed away 46 years ago at age 31.

“Sometimes I feel her presence when onstage,” Kerman said.

Chewing up the scenery as lead stenographer Miss Flannery is Heidi Coffman, of Huntington Woods.

“She’s a tough New York broad. Bossy and full of herself,” Coffman said. “She pushes everyone around. She’s funny and mean. All my scenes are with Millie.”

She feels at home onstage.

“There’s so much adrenaline and excitement,” Coffman said. “It’s just such an exhilarating feeling. You’re interacting with the audience. You can’t beat it.”

In the role of Trevor Graydon III is Bill Baird, of Sterling Heights.

“He’s a businessman. He’s a hoot. He gets to get drunk in this. He’s part of the rescue squad that saves Mille,” said Baird, 69, whose wife, Chris, is working on scenery for the show.

Also starring in the show are Beverly Luria, of St. Clair Shores, as Miss Dorothy Smith; Diana Schreiber, of Clinton Township, as Muzzy Van Hossmere; Mikki Malatesta, of Rochester, as Mrs. Meers; Paul Messano, of Troy, as Ching Ho; and Patty Keylon, of Shelby Township, as Bun Foo.

Rochester resident Stacey Cleaveland is the musical director, and Troy resident Pam Messano is the director.

“I get to see my vision onstage. We haven’t had much time for this show, and the cast has really pulled together,” Messano said. “This is the most difficult show we’ve done musically, because we don’t know the songs.”

There are seven members of the orchestra, including Grosse Pointe Park resident and bass guitarist Peter Dudley, 66.

“It’s a retro 1920s jazzy musical,” Dudley said. “At one point in the show, George Gershwin makes an appearance.”

He joined Heart of the Hills in 2002.

“It keeps me young and it keeps me active,” he said.

Tickets cost $16 in advance and $18 at the door (based on availability), or $12 each for groups of 10 or more purchased in advance. Seating is reserved. For tickets, visit  www.macombcenter.com or call (586) 286-2222. 

For more information on Heart of the Hills Players, visit hohplayers.org.