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JAKS Youth Theatre Company will stage production of 'Thoroughly Modern Millie'

By Rosemarie Howard

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Feb. 16 2013 12:30 p.m. MST

“THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE,” presented by the JAKS Youth Theatre Company, opens Thursday, Feb. 21 and runs through Saturday, Feb. 23 in the Rose Wagner Theatre, Salt Lake City. Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. with a 2 p.m. Saturday matinee.

The JAKS Youth Theatre Company will bring "Thoroughly Modern Millie" to the Rose Wagner Theatre this month.

“We have an amazing, energetic young cast,” said director Jill Wilhelm.

The role of Millie is double-cast, played by a 13-year-old and a 14-year-old.

“Both girls have worked hard on the character,” said Wilhelm. “Both of them sing and dance very well. They are both very good at this particular part. And the rest of the cast is equal.”

“'Thoroughly Modern Millie,'” is tongue-in-cheek and a little campy,” Wilhelm said. “It’s a very entertaining piece.”

But don’t expect to see a re-creation of the movie on stage. According to Wilhelm, there is a lot more music in the stage play. Millie does end up with Jimmy, but Miss Dorothy’s Mr. Grayson is not part of the story.

Seven years ago, Wilhelm brought her passion for music and theater from California to Syracuse, Utah, and began JAKS, a youth theater group for children from 5 to 18 years old.

Music is something she grew up with. “I studied piano and vocals,” Wilhelm said in a recent interview. “I studied opera for five years, and have been singing with a band for almost 30.” She and her husband, Kaiser, regularly perform with their Celtic band Pladdohg.

When her youngest child Katie became involved in Ed Belasco’s youth theater in Walnut Grove, Calif., her passion for musical theater was rekindled.

She started out volunteering at the theater — painting doors, designing sets and doing vocal coaching. One thing led to another, and by the time Katie was too old for the youth theater, Jill was practically running the company.

When the family moved to Utah, Jill opened a Belasco youth theater branch in Syracuse. After Belasco retired, she decided to start her own theater for youth and named it JAKS — the initials of the Wilhelm family members' first names.

And JAKS is a family affair. The company’s staff consists mainly of family members: Jill is the founder and director; her husband takes care of sound; her brother Jim Thomas is their lawyer, photographer and graphic designer; Jim’s wife Florence does the costumes; her nephew, Michael Thomas, runs the light board; and Michael's wife, Beth, is the producer and attends to office details.

“We focus on doing two full-length Broadway musicals each year,” said Jill, “with all of the harmony singing and dancing.”

The company has staged “Oliver,” “Annie,” and "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

Casts range in size from 20 to 40 children — depending on the show. They rehearse at Karen Jones’ Performance Dance Studio in Layton and do smaller scene work rehearsals at the Wilhelm residence.

Jill teaches vocals and directs the show. Two choreographers, Dr. Joy Clem and Karen Jones, do the main choreography.

“I also give the dancers interested in choreography a chance to create their own choreography for at least one number in most of our productions,” Jill said.

She casts according to ability, not age, race or height, she says. “Unless there is some restriction that makes it impossible,” Jill said, “ I’ll cast a 9-year old in a lead part.

According to their online mission statement, “JAKS strives to teach children the power of their own potential, focusing on excellence, talent and team work.”

JAKS is currently recruiting new students for a production of “Annie” in May at the Ziegfield Theater in Ogden. If interested, call JAKS at 801-510-8414 or email info@jakstheatrecompany.com.

Rosemarie Howard lives in a 100-year-old house on Main Street, Springville, Utah. She enjoys creating multimedia projects. Her website is at dramaticdimensions.com.

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