Stage Crafters Community Theatre, Inc. will present the 1920s musical "Thoroughly Modern Millie" March 13-15 and 20-22 in Fort Walton Beach.
FORT WALTON BEACH – Kerry Duval compares being asked to play the role of Millie to a marriage proposal.
She’s been dying to say "yes" her whole life.
Duval will portray the lead in Stage Crafters Community Theatre, Inc.’s production of "Thoroughly Modern Millie," a musical that follows Millie’s journey from a small town in Kansas to New York City to become a stenographer and marry a wealthy man. Duval is no stranger to the 1967 film version starring Julie Andrews.
"I used to drive my family crazy watching that movie over and over again – summers at my grandmother’s house," Duval said. "I’ve loved this show for a very long time. To be able to fill in a role that Julie Andrew’s played – she’s iconic – and Sutton Foster played Millie on Broadway, it was a lot of pressure, but I was just dying to do it. I cried. It’s been my every day since that point in time. I’ve been eating, drinking, sleeping – not really sleeping – but all consumed, obsessed with it."
Stage Crafters Community Theatre, Inc. will present "Thoroughly Modern Millie" at 7:30 p.m. March 13-14 and 20-21, and at 2 p.m. March 15 and 22 at Fort Walton Beach Civic Auditorium, 109 Miracle Strip Parkway. Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for students. Purchase tickets at the door or in advance at stagecraftersfwb.com.
"Thoroughly Modern Millie" is magic, Duval said.
The show is set in the 1920s, as hemlines and hair length shortened. Duval’s hair was a bob even before she got the part, she said.
"We’ve kept everything really close to the time of the 1920s – down to hats and accessories," Duval said. "It should feel very authentic, very jazzy, a lot of high energy. This was the time of prohibition, so there were a lot of speakeasies and juice joints and a lot of Charleston dance moves."
While their hair length is similar, Millie has qualities beyond the surface Duval envies.
"She’s so strong, so determined and she’s not afraid to speak her mind," Duval said. "It’s been really fun to play that kind of a person. Anyone will tell you, I’m quite shy, very soft-spoken, more of the wallflower. So to play somebody who’s that strong and who has that much of an opinion and just has no fear – she picks up and moves to New York without knowing a soul and she just knows she’s going to make it happen."
Like Duval, Mike Braud will perform his desired role.
Braud was an ensemble member in the same production in 2007 at his high school in Louisiana. He remembers hoping to someday portray Jimmy Smith.
"He is a very go-lucky, on-the-fly sort of guy," Braud said. "He sings this whole song in act one about being with a girl every single night, not wanting to be tied down. Doesn’t take life too seriously, but he has a lot of secrets. Those secrets come out throughout the show for some surprising twists and turns."
What’s most interesting about his character, though, is Smith is happy-go-lucky until he falls in love. Smith’s story is trying to navigate love for the first time, Braud said.
The musical is a romantic comedy written in the 2000s.
"The script is very witty," Braud said. "The producer was Whoopi Goldberg, so the comedy is really modern. It’s not like you have to think too hard about the comedy; it’s embedded in the script."
The biggest challenge is undoubtedly the music, a jazz style featuring much tap dancing.
"I’ve cried a lot over the music," Duval said. "Taking on a role of this size vocally was extremely challenging. I’ve never had to belt before, and I had to learn how to belt. I had to learn how to extend my range a bit and get stronger."
Director Melissa Wolf-Bates said six of the songs are solos with only one actor on stage.
"The way these songs are written and the way these amazing performers sing them, you can’t help but be engaged when you watch it – with only one person on stage," Wolf-Bates said. "It’s absolutely incredible. I was a little nervous about that. They’ve all worked so hard and really taken on these people and found the humanity in them."
Braud doesn’t have a favorite scene or song; his favorite aspect is the whole thing.
"My favorite part is being surrounded by folks who work nine, 10-plus hour work days," Braud said. "No one does this professionally. They just show up three hours every single night for three months and put on a show because they love it."
Duval feels the same. She describes the all-volunteer community theater as accepting.
"You can just be having the worst day and you don’t even want to come to rehearsal, but man by the time you leave, you’re like, ‘This is the best day ever,’" Duval said. "It breathes new life into you."
Erica Touchton can attest to that. She will portray the role of singer Muzzy Van Hossmere in her first Stage Crafters’ production.
This will mark Touchton’s first stage performance in 20 years. She relates to one of her character’s songs, "Only in New York," because it’s a love story about being back where she belongs.
"Theater has always been an outlet, a home – I can always escape there if I have stress," Touchton said. "So I feel at home being back on the stage."
Touchton feels at peace working with Stage Crafters, she said.
"There’s something about performing arts – not just theater – where you can share your love of something with this other person who shares that love and then bringing it to people who know nothing about the show or theme and bring that to life," Touchton said. "It’s such a blessing and rewarding feeling to know you put so much into it and everyone else is putting so much into it."