By Daniel Johanson
The last theatrical production of the school year for Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts is a rendition of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” which starts its run April 16.
The musical is a summation of what students of the Theater Conservatory work on on a regular basis. The musical requires a wide variety of skill sets, including strong ensemble singing, heavy choreographic work and attention to comedic timing.
“‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ is a newer musical designed to feel like an older musical comedy,” said Luis Perez, the head of the Musical Theater Department. “Being set in the ’20s, the dances are all period in style. The performers have worked on Charleston, Fox Trot and Tap. The acting style and comedic content requires quite a bit of work on timing. We try over each class’ four years here to attack several different styles of musicals.”
It’s up to the administrative team to be sure students are communicating the right practices in this process. The real challenge becomes a matter of coordination.
“Each musical presents its own set of difficulties and learning opportunities,” Perez said. “This is a rather large musical, 30 in the cast alone, and has a lot of moving parts. Trying to coordinate everything has been an interesting challenge. [The cast] are all working extremely diligently and coming in with ideas and creativity that make the process a joy.”
This provides a learning experience for the students involved with the production, as it is not uncommon to be involved in a production that has this rigorous of a performance schedule.
“We have had a six-week rehearsal process, including tech and the show — so, five weeks of rehearsal, and the sixth week is tech and performances,” said Collin Sanderson, one of the performers.
One aspect of all of this work is that the students are still expected to go through their daily routines.
“You really have to use your spare time wisely to make sure that you are keeping up with your school assignments — scenes, songs, and gen. ed. homework — on top of being prepared for rehearsal each night,” Sanderson said.
The lessons a student learns that can only be taught by performing does not diminish the regular coursework of a student studying the art of performance.
“What students gain the most through the study of musical theater is so specific and varies given the individual,” Sanderson said. “But, personally, I would have to say that what students gain through this study are practical tools like being able to clearly communicate and work with others. You also learn a lot about history. Every musical is set in a different time period, so it’s always interesting researching the time period and trying to make that period come to live on stage through physicality, interaction and speech.”
The extent of the forethought and organization that is essential to a successful production doesn’t always go noticed by audiences. The finished package they see during a production’s run is the culmination of months of work by all involved.
“The show is pure entertainment and appropriate for all ages,” Perez said. “As with all the shows we do, we expect the utmost professionalism from our students. We hold the bar high, and the students rise to that bar.”