Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Passion Play: Bringing Thoroughly Modern Millie to Broadway Is the Culmination of Author Dick Scanlan's Tumultuous Life. (Theater)

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Passion Play: Bringing Thoroughly Modern Millie to Broadway Is the Culmination of Author Dick Scanlan's Tumultuous Life. (Theater)

Article excerpt

In 1995, suffering from the worst ravages of HIV, Dick Scanlan nevertheless continued pouring money into his dream of creating a stage version of the 1967 film Thoroughly Modern Millie, paying for readings and plane tickets to Los Angeles to collaborate with the author of the screenplay, Richard Morris. Seven years later, Scanlan is feeling fit, and Millie is making a triumphant debut on Broadway on April 18.

"I never want to imply that I lived because I have a stronger life drive than the people who died," Scanlan says, emphatically crediting his rebound to the anti-HIV drug cocktail instead. "I've lost so many people who I knew to be passionate and committed to their lives. That said, it is absolutely true that your outlook contributes to your longevity. I chose to keep investing in my future--even when I had no future."

What Scanlan did have was a vision. His Thoroughly Modern Millie is a total reimagining of the campy 1967 film, which featured Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore, and Carol Channing. Scanlan and Morris reworked the story--which traces Millie's search for a rich husband while staying at a boardinghouse run by white slave traders--and Scanlan penned lyrics for 10 new songs. The preview staging in La Jolla, Calif., left critics hyperventilating. "Breezy, frothy and unapologetically joyful," gushed the showbiz bible Variety, "Millie is a ... tonic for whatever ails you."

The origin of that tonic was a summerhouse in Southampton, N.Y., where Scanlan hosted friends each weekend in the late 1980s and early `90s, when he was ill. When guests wanted to watch a video after dinner, the only choices were Caligula and a copy of Thoroughly Modern Millie taped off late-night TV.

"Week after week my friends would choose Millie," Scanlan recalls, smiling. "So I'd watch it over and over, and I was struck that for a movie that is perceived as silly, it has six principal characters who have profound objectives to change their lives in some way. You have Millie, this girl from nowhere, who has the same feelings about New York City that I always had as a kid--that it is literally a place that you can go and become the person that you've always felt you were inside. In a sense, what she is doing is coming out."

Scanlan finally got the nerve to telephone Morris, who owned the rights, in 1991--only to have him hang up the phone when Scanlan suggested that they collaborate. …

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