The director of the Windham Center Stage Theater production of Thoroughly Modern Millie, which opens this weekend, is no stranger to the stage. He’s been to Broadway and back, but he got his start right here in Windham, dancing his first performance on the very same stage where the show will be performed.
Jonathan Miele was born in Portland and raised in Windham. He trained at the Dorothy Mason School of Dance in Portland. Miele graduated from Windham High School in 1968.
When he was 20, through a connection with his dance teacher, he landed a summer job at Ram Island Theater in Cape Elizabeth, and from there moved on to Boston, Pennsylvania, and ultimately New York.
Miele spent a summer in Pennsylvania doing summer stock, where they did a new show each week. When the summer was over, Miele got a job in a New Jersey dinner theatre, Club Bene, where he met his wife, Linda.
The next couple of years were filled with theater work that took Miele from Cape Cod to Buffalo, and back to New York City. “I was so, so lucky,” he said. “I was only out of work four weeks in three and a half years, which was awesome.” His career included touring with Carol Channing and then going to Broadway in a show called Lorelai, as well as another Broadway production, Mac and Mabel, that starred Robert Preston and Bernadette Peters.
After Miele married Linda, the two moved to Maine and took over the dance school where he had trained. The school became the Maine State Ballet and the Maine State Ballet School for the Performing Arts, which is still operated by Miele and his wife.
Miele says he is semi-retired, teaching only three classes per week. He directs musicals at Scarborough High School, and has taught a dance class during the first quarter at Windham High School for the past 18 years. Miele lives in Windham, and is also very involved in his church. “Life is rich and full. It’s great,” he said.
This is the third time Miele has directed this show, and he is enjoying every minute. “I am having a blast with every single person at Windham Center Stage Theater,” he said. “It is wonderful to be involved with a group that is so welcoming and kind. I hope that this is just the beginning of my involvement with Windham Center Stage Theater.”
Mary Wassick, producer of the show, said that the theater has been trying to connect with Miele for years, and finally their schedules matched up. This show is ambitious for a small theater, she said, and the group almost didn’t do it. They asked Miele to come look at the stage to evaluate the possibilities and when he said he thought it would work, they went for it. “I feel like we really get stronger and stronger every year, and I think this show is going to be a testament to that,” she said. The experience that Miele brings has “upped the game,” she said. It’s been going great, she added, and they’ve seen some new faces as a result of working with Miele.
A lot of Windham Center Stage Veterans are also on hand, including Shelbi Wassick and Logan Burns, who play the lead roles.
Shelbi said that this is the first show she ever saw on Broadway, and she was obsessed with it, and with Sutton Foster, the actress who played Millie. “I was really excited when Windham Center Stage decided to do the show,” she said. She has been involved at WCST since she was five, and when this show came along, she said she had to be in it.
Working with Miele has been great, the cast said. “I think Jon is kind above all else, and so he puts the people who are here first, not the show. He’s about building people up and giving them confidence and opportunities,” said Mary.
Shelbi echoed this sentiment. When first tackling the role of Millie, she said she was quite nervous, but Miele put her at ease. “He always believes in you. More than you believe in yourself, he believes in you and your capabilities. And that makes you feel not afraid to take a chance, and to try it because he’s not going to crush you,” she said.
Shelbi thinks people will be surprised when they see this show at WCST. “This is something huge and very special,” she said.
Burns quipped, “It’s got action. It’s got drama. It’s got comedy. It’s got love – what more do you want? Come see the show!”
Thoroughly Modern Millie opens Friday May 22nd at 7 p.m. The show will run May 22 and 23 at 7 p.m, May 24th at 4 p.m, May 29 and 30 at 7 p.m. and May 31st at 4 p.m. Tickets can be reserved online at www.windhamtheater.org, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The box office opens 1½ hours prior to each show. Tickets are $12 for adults and students and seniors are $10.