On Thursday, March 13, Monticello High School students will take the stage to perform the school’s annual musical.
This year’s title is “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” a Broadway play based on the 1967 film.
Thoroughly Modern Millie tells the story of a small-town girl, Millie Dillmount (played by Paige Huschka), who comes to New York City to marry for money instead of love – a “thoroughly modern” aim in 1922, when women were just entering the workforce.
The musical’s director, Tony Peterson, is a first-year teacher in Monticello. He graduated several years ago from North Dakota State University with a Bachelor’s degree in music and education. He then went on to teach in West Fargo and started in Monticello as a choir and guitar teacher.
“It has been pretty exciting,” he said.
This is the fourth musical that Peterson has directed. He saw a production of Thoroughly Modern Millie three years ago and has wanted to bring it to life.
“I have been waiting for the right moment to do it,” he said. Anyone in grades nine through twelve can participate in the musical.
Not only do the students perform, but they also help with building the on-stage sets.
“There are a total of about 40 people involved,” Peterson said. “It is very student-driven.”
Peterson enjoys his job as the director.
“I love it!” he said, “It’s my favorite part of the day.” The students have been working on the show since right after Christmas break and Peterson said that the limited time schedule they’ve had to deal with has been extra challenging.
“It has been a two-and-a half month process,” said Peterson. “But five or six snow days means we’ve missed about 25 hours of rehearsal time.”
He added: “I give major kudos to the kids for hanging in there. They even have to add extra weekend rehearsals to make up for the lost time. Those are the days when we work until the work is done,” he laughed.
Peterson’s assistant director, Derek Swart, is also a first-year teacher in Monticello and first year teacher overall.
“All of the musical staffers are first-year Monticello people, which might let you know something about our starry-eyed idealism,” joked Swart.
Swart teaches English at Monticello High School, and somehow got talked into being involved in the musical during his tour of the high school.
“I was never really involved with drama at all when I was younger, but it’s hard to study English for as long as I have without picking up a somewhat decent grounding in the area,” Swart said.
He, too, enjoys his time in rehearsals with the students.
“Having the chance to get to know who they [the students] are outside of the classroom has been indescribable,” he said. “Mostly, I’m looking forward to watching kids come off-stage and smile with them because they just nailed their lines. That’s going to be a great feeling.”
Swart also enjoys working with Peterson, and has nothing but great things to say about him.
“He’s the right combination of laid-back and perfectionist. He knows when to turn on the “director” gene and get down to business, how to get results from our actors when they are sapped of energy on a Friday, but he’s also really good about knowing when to laugh with kids, and how to joke around,” he said.
Other staff members involved in the musical are choreographer Tara Storts, a physical education teacher at the high school, orchestra director Brett Krohn, the high school’s band teacher and rehearsal accompanist Barb Jones, who teaches music at Pinewood Elementary.
“It has been great having them on board,” said Peterson.
As for the actors themselves, Zak McPherson, a senior, plays Ching Ho. This is the third musical he has participated in.
He is looking forward to opening night.
“It’s really fun for me as a seasoned actor at our school to really be that guiding light in the fog of chaos just before the show,” he said. “That moment just before the show starts, you’re backstage and you look around at all the people you worked with, and there is this silent exchange between everyone that they are going to do their best to pull off the show. And I love that time—it’s what I, as an actor, live for.”
Huschka, who plays the main character, Millie, has also been in musicals before, including the Ordway’s production of “The Sound of Music” when she was in fourth grade. But this, she says, is her first lead role.
“I became interested in musicals when I was little…and it has carried on into high school. I had Googled this musical when I found out what it was, and the storyline was so complex and interesting and the songs were so fun and upbeat that my eye was immediately caught!” she said.
According to Huschka, Monticello High School’s production of Thoroughly Modern Millie will be very entertaining.
“Everyone in the cast is amazing and hilarious and there is no dull moment!” she said. “I am so excited to have all of the hard work the cast has put in these last two months go into play. It will be exciting to show the audience what we can do!”
Show times are Thursday, March 13 and Saturday, March 15, both at 7 p.m. and Sunday, March 16 at 2 p.m.
Tickets can be purchased by calling the Monticello Box Office at 736-272-3004 or at the door.
Cost is $8 for adults and $5 for students.
Kendra Hartsell is a freelance business and feature writer for the Monticello Times.