A small-town girl moves to New York City to find a job and a rich husband. It is a thoroughly modern endeavor for the times — circa 1920s, when women were just entering the work force.
While the big city may be a lure for young, impressionable girls, it also can be a haven for evil wrongdoing, where young women mysteriously "check out" of a hotel never to be seen again.
That is the premise of Thoroughly Modern Millie Jr., which premiers this evening at Stage West Community Playhouse. The children's production is based on the Broadway musical Thoroughly Modern Millie and includes all of the characters, costumes and songs that won the 1967 film of the same name several Academy Awards.
The local show stars 16-year-old Julia Rifino as Millie. She's a thoroughly modern woman whose plans go awry when she falls in love with Jimmy Smith, played by Jacob Rice, also 16.
"I just love the style of the play and the story line and twists," Rifino said.
"It's definitely a challenge," she said of performing as Millie. "Very fun to play. I love to be challenged in my roles. It makes me stronger as an actress."
Rifino said one of her favorite parts of the show is when she sings the classic Forget About the Boy.
"It's a great number and a lot of fun," she says.
As Jimmy, Rice is equally challenged.
"Jimmy is very suave and puts up a front that's calm and collected. He's very hard to play because I'm not suave," Rice admits. "But it's good for me. It's a challenge and a chance to relax and be the 'player' of the '20s."
Rice said his favorite number is I Turned the Corner.
"It takes place on a window ledge, overlooking the city," he said. "It's a cool scene."
Although it's a children's production, the show follows the story line of the Broadway show. There are 30 young performers, ages 6 to 18.
The show is being directed by Jennifer Vilardi, a veteran Stage West performer and director of summer youth shows, including Willy Wonka Jr. and last year's Charlotte's Web, which recently won a Stage West HAMI Award.
"I love doing the kids' shows," Vilardi said. "It's much different than working with the adults. … They devote more time and are willing to learn."
Vilardi finds herself coaching many youth actors she has worked with before. As a result, she says, she works them harder than in the past.
"I'm harder on them because I know they can do more," she said. " … All have been on the stage before."
While Millie is her first lead role, Rifino has performed in numerous Stage West youth productions, including Aladdin Jr., Mulan Jr., Fiddler on the Roof Jr. and Willie Wonka Jr., as well as the Main Stage production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. She also is part of the drama cluster and Thespian Honor Society at Nature Coast Technical High School.
Rice has been performing since he was 5, starting with a Peter Pan production at Stage West. Since then, he has starred in the lead role in Aladdin Jr. at Stage West, and also performed in Mulan Jr., Oliver, 1776, Fiddler on the Roof Jr., The King and I and Camelot.
"This is what I want to do for the rest of my life," he said. "Performing is awesome."
"This is definitely something I want to pursue," she said. "I will never give this up. … I love it."
The show also features Amanda Hartzell as Dorothy, Millie's best friend; Nina Mackin, the evil owner of the hotel where Millie and Dorothy live; Matthew Romeo and Dakota Ruiz as thugs Bun Foo and Ching Ho, and Katie Meisner as Mrs. Flannery, with whom Millie works.
The assistant director is Keith Meccia, the music director is Steven Schildbach and the choreographer is Malia Nicolini.
"Everything is going really, really well," Vilardi said. "I'm working with such talented kids who just always amaze me. … I believe this will be the best summer special."