There are a million hard-luck stories set in New York City, but Thoroughly Modern Millie isn't one of them. The musical is about a girl from Salina, Kansas, who's still picking hay from her teeth when she hits the pavement in 1922. In short order, though, she becomes a secretary (a glamorous post at the time) by day and a flamboyant flapper by night -- making her Thoroughly Modern. Critics didn't exactly adore the 1967 film version. In fact, Leonard Maltin's Movie & Video Guide says that "it has a fatal case of the cutes." But its Broadway producers scrapped most of the movie's songs, crafting a buoyant new score with showstoppers like Millie's "Gimme Gimme" and big production numbers like the eye-popping Act Two opener, "Forget About the Boy."
Despite mixed reviews, it won a Tony for Best Musical, and the show now launches its national tour in Kansas City.
Darcie Roberts plays Millie in the tour, but it's not her first experience with the role. "It started for me quite a few years back, when I did the first reading of the musical as Millie," she says from New York during a break in rehearsals. "Then it went through different readings and workshops, and I wasn't involved in it again until now. So it's been a long journey."
Costarring with Roberts is Matt Cavenaugh, whose ripped torso was splashed all over New York City this spring thanks to his starring role in the now-closed Urban Cowboy.
Roberts playing Millie seems predestined. She says her great-aunt Mary left Kansas City in the 1920s to try her hand in New York.
"I have a picture of her from 1922 -- completely modern flapper: the bobbed hair, the pushed hat, the dress," Roberts says. "She saw a Ziegfield show that had come through Kansas City, joined it and went to New York. Ziegfield wanted to put her in a show, but she was homesick and came back."
Nonetheless, Roberts says, her aunt's spirit infuses her performance. "I have angels looking over me from the Kansas City days," she says.
Thoroughly Modern Millie plays through Sunday at Starlight Theater, 6601 Swope Parkway. For information, call 816-363-7827.-- Steve Walker
Midwestern artists get closer to the big time.
The River Market Regional Exhibition shows winning art entries from across the Midwest. Scoring with the Kansas City Artists Coalition's annual competition is an honor, but the stakes might be higher this year (its 21st) with juror Deborah Singer flipping through the slides -- Singer happens to be curator for the 2004 Whitney Biennial. The reception is from 7 to 9 p.m. at 201 Wyandotte; the exhibit is open through August 23. For more information, call 816-421-5222.-- Sarah Smarsh
The Kansas City Filmmakers Jubilee offers opportunities for intimate exchanges with the masterminds behind independent films. This month, Mark Moskowitz, writer-producer-director of Stone Reader -- a documentary exploring how some great works of literature disappear with time -- gives a free talk at 6:15 p.m. at the Westport Coffee House (4010 Pennsylvania); the film starts at 7:30 at Tivoli Cinemas (4050 Pennsylvania). Call 913-649-0244, or see the Film Clip on page 29 for more information.-- Smarsh
We Got the Beat
Duke University instructor Fahli Igbo is an expert in the drumming styles of West Africa, South America and the Caribbean. But he isn't just another intellectual spouting off secondhand information. He's lived the music, performing for thirty years and traveling the world with the Chuck Davis African-American Dance Ensemble. He specializes in the djembe, a "healing drum" that dates to the twelfth-century Mali Empire of West Africa; the Mandingo people used it in sacred ceremonies. The professor conducts a drumming workshop from 7 to 9 p.m. at Westport Presbyterian Church, 201 Westport Road. Admission is $15 in advance and $20 at the door. For information, call 816-561-1849.-- Smarsh