Rappers have their own clothing lines, headphones, TV shows, and movie deals, but as far as I know, none have ended up on Broadway. That said, I just watched The Speed Test from Thoroughly Modern Milly, and the cast was spitting fire. With catchy lyrics and a bit of a dueling banjo theme of one-upmanship, I’ve had The Speed Test from Thoroughly Modern Milly stuck in my head since hearing it for the first time. I would probably be annoying everyone around me singing it to myself, but luckily for them, I don’t have anywhere near the coordination or lung capacity to even attempt this song.
The premise of the scene is that the main character, Milly, is on a mission to land herself a rich and powerful husband. She decides to go after Mr. Graydon, an eligible bachelor and a boss at the Sincere Trust. So she applies for a job as his stenographer and the song is her interview test. Mr. Graydon starts dictating at a reasonable pace, complaining about an order of floor wax. (That The Speed Test from Thoroughly Modern Milly succeeds in turning a song about something as mundane as floor wax into a Broadway hit speaks leagues about how well written it is). After writing what she is supposed to, and coolly crossing every “t” and dotting every “i,” Millie decides to up the ante by telling him he was a bit slow.
This is where the number starts getting good. While challenging her interviewer to make things more difficult might suggest Millie is not the savviest job hunter, she certainly succeeds in proving she is a good stenographer. Around this point, we get our first bit of comedy with Mr. Graydon shoving the rancid floor wax under Milly’s nose, and the song tempo starts getting quicker and quicker. I’m not fully sure why, but the refrain and mutual affirmation that “Hudson’s Floor Wax doesn’t matter” struck me as the funniest bit of the whole piece — unfortunately it was followed by a scene that I found to be a bit too long and too boring.
The typewriter/tap dancing of the song was drawn out and uninteresting. Mr. Graydon gives Milly two minutes to type the letter, and then the audience is treated to…. two minutes of watching her type the letter. Sure, it has a couple dancers in it, but this song’s strengths lay in the lyrics and vocalists, not the choreographers. While Millie is a great stenographer, she isn’t much of a typist, and is a mediocre tap dancer at best. Had her typing time been limited to 30 seconds, not only would the song have been better, but I would have more respect for Milly’s typing abilities too.
Despite the lackluster typing segment, I thought The Speed Test from Thoroughly Modern Milly makes a major comeback with the best part at the end. Somehow Mr. Graydon sings even faster than the insane pace he was maintaining before— I’m not sure who is playing him, but they might want to try being the first rap star to come out of Broadway. To wrap everything up, we are treated to a happy ending with Milly landing the job and being serenaded by her new co-workers.
Most musical pieces are about some sort of great trial or lost love. On the other hand, The Speed Test from Thoroughly Modern Milly is almost entirely about a spoiled jar of floor wax. Despite the mundane subject matter, its witty lyrics and incessantly accelerating tempo keep it fun and amusing. The Speed Test is by far the fastest paced Broadway song I have ever seen and I highly recommend you buy tickets for Thoroughly Modern Milly to enjoy it live.