The More Things Change

Darcie Roberts finds herself in Thoroughly Modern Millie.
Joan Marcus

The "modern" in Thoroughly Modern Millie has always been relative. When the Julie Andrews film was released in 1967, both social and sexual mores had, of course, advanced from Millie's 1922 setting. "Modern" referred to the '20s version -- a classic, Picasso modern rather than the unflinching, Warhol variety that was au courant in '67. Needless to say, whenthe Broadway version was penned in 1999, mores, and modernity, had changed yet again.

"In the '20s women were entering the workforce, cutting their hair, raising their hemlines," says Darcie Roberts, who plays title character Millie Dillmount in the touring Broadway show that's in town this month. "People looked at that as something bad, like they were loose women or something. But the flappers looked at it as freedom -- they were taking charge of their destinies."

Millie follows the adventures of a frumpy Kansas farm girl who comes to Manhattan and reinvents herself as a fabulous flapper. With her hair bobbed and her hemline closer to her waist than her knees, Millie sets out to find a job and a husband -- that is, a job as a stenographer working for a rich man she plans to make her husband.

"Millie's following a plan she read about in Vogue," says Roberts. "It says that modern marriage is a business arrangement, and love comes later." Feel-good musicals being what they are, though, Millie's practical, cynical, "modern" view of love and marriage barely makes it out of Act I. "It's really about Millie's journey in discovering what she's all about and what true love means to her.

"When things are radical and changing, for example in the '60s," continues Roberts, "it's the people who are holding on to the past who see it as negative. The people who are initiating the change see it as a very exciting thing. Thank goodness those women cut their hair and took their corsets off -- I'm thankful for that!"

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