March 24, 2013

Bill Nemitz: Give our regards to Broadway. Wait, make that South Portland.

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Paige Doane leads a song during a performance by South Portland High School students of the musical “Thoroughly Modern Millie” on Friday.

Photos by Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

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There were many seats available near the back of the South Portland High School auditorium just before the start of the performance of the musical “Thoroughly Modern Millie” on Friday. The school could not advertise the production because of licensing restrictions.

Tim Greenway

How good? A few years ago, some 250 people were turned away from a sold-out finale of "Beauty and the Beast."

Put more simply, this rendition of "Thoroughly Modern Millie," like its two dozen predecessors, has very little to do with market penetration -- and everything to do with community participation.

Last week, the local weekly "Current" ran a front-page story on the musical's plight. The kids, meanwhile, took to their Facebook pages to spread the word -- after all, nobody put the kibosh on social media.

But alas, as the curtain rose Friday evening, the auditorium was less than half full. Didn't matter -- from stellar performances by Doane, Benevides and company right down to a stage crew that pulled off endless scene changes without a hitch and an orchestra that missed nary a beat, the crowd grew steadily in noise if not number.

(Among my favorite moments: James Falconer and Matt Amadei, as brothers Ching Ho and Bun Foo, and Emma Dadmun as Mrs. Meers bringing down the house with their Chinese version of the song "Mammy." Top that, Sally Struthers.)

But here's the truly tough part. There are still many, many tickets available for Sunday's 2 p.m. matinee (that's today), not to mention three more performances on Friday and Saturday, April 4 and 5. And since these kids still can't advertise, well, let's just say you're looking at it.

So log on to or call 767-3266 and see for yourself why all this hand-wringing over licensing obscures an infinitely more important truth: Grassroots support for the arts springs not from the high-priced mezzanines of Manhattan, but rather from the front-row seats of school auditoriums all over Maine and beyond.

And if you need proof of that, consider what happened backstage moments after Friday's final curtain fell and an extended standing ovation subsided.

Lining both sides of a long, narrow hallway, the cast and crew of "Thoroughly Modern Millie" raised their hands to form a human archway. Through it, hunched over and screaming at the top of their lungs, ran the principal actors and actresses until they reached the closed door to the lobby.

"Ten, nine, eight, seven ... three, two, ONE!!!" they shouted in unison.

Then, nervous no more, they threw open the door and disappeared into a sea of floral bouquets, high fives and bear hugs from friends, relatives and parents who knew, full house or no full house, that they'd just witnessed something magical.

Jennifer Benevides, Ethan's mom, burst into tears at the sight of her son.

"I'm so, so proud of you," she said, wrapping her all-time-favorite actor in a motherly embrace. "So proud."

Try finding that on Broadway.

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:


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