Look out New York! (er… sorry. The U.K.) It’s time to say hello to that thoroughly modern gal about town, Miss Millie Dillmount, this time played by the simply adorable (and wildly talented) Joanne Clifton – winner of last year’s Strictly Come Dancing and all-round nation’s sweetheart. The musical, originally the famous film starring Julie Andrews, is notorious for its great Twenties look, sound and also some rather troubling racist stereotypes, but the 2002 stage version did try to go some way to correct the problematic aspects of the film, whilst maintaining the kitschy fun of the movie.
The story follows Millie, a typical country girl chasing her dream in the big city – not a life on the stage for this girl, but a rich husband. As a Modern, all bobbed hair and high hemline, she wants a marriage like a business arrangement rather than one based on silly old romance. Ending up the victim of a robbery, she stumbles across Jimmy Smith (a likeable Sam Barrett), or rather makes him stumble across her. He gives her the address of a skeezy hotel run by a Mrs Meers (Michele Collins). It’s there she meets a bundle of other Modern girls out to follow their dreams in New York, including the ever-so-sweet Miss Dorothy Brown (Katherine Glover), but all is not as it seems. Young girls seem to be going missing from the hotel, but who could be behind it all…? It’s true the story is somewhat predictable, but that does not take away from the spirited performances of the entire ensemble. Indeed, it’s such a delight to watch the diverse cast tackle the big musical numbers with such character and good humour. Kudos to the ensemble who really make the show’s musical numbers the cat’s pyjamas!
And Clifton is an utter delight to watch from start to finish. Bright, breezy, and her effortless dancing and funny faces make her Millie a real joy. This is ‘celebrity casting’ done right. There is great chemistry between her and Barrett’s Jimmy Smith too. Some stand out performances from Graham MacDuff as Millie’s boss Trevor Graydon, as well as some simply beautiful singing from Jenny Fitzpatrick as Muzzy Van Hossmere are very enjoyable, and the hilarious Catherine Mort as the office dragon, Miss Flannery, helps jolly everything along with a dose of comedy too. The entire cast have a lot of fun sending up the more ridiculous aspects of the script (indeed, Act Two gets a bit melodramatically panto – but in a good way!)
In fact, there’s delightful kitschy fun to be had throughout! The incredibly talented Director and Choreographer Racky Plews has clearly loved creating every inch of this show, not least because it offers such opportunity for some exciting musical numbers throughout. Plews has an excellent way with musicality, fun and stage frolics creating some truly clever moments – seated tap-dancing in the typing pool and an inspired scene in the local Juice Joint, which so simply transforms the speakeasy into the slammer.
It’s unfortunate then that there is still something problematic about the depiction of Mrs Meers in this production. Portrayed as an awkwardly stereotypical Chinese lady (chopsticks in her bun, ridiculous pronunciation or r’s and l’s…), the story runs that Mrs Meers is a failed actress, pretending to be a Chinese hotel proprietor, but who actually sells young girls into a life of white slavery in Hong Kong. So the question remains, why does she need to be Chinese exactly…? And even so, shouldn’t her ‘normal’ voice be wildly different from her offensive mock Chinese accent, if only to make the story clear? All this isn’t really helped by Collins unfortunately screechy, hard-to-follow delivery. It is difficult to enjoy this aspect of the show, despite the utterly brilliant work from Damian Buhagiar as Ching Ho and Andy Yau as Bun Foo, Meer’s two lackeys, working under her to help bring their mama over from China. Buhagiar and Yau are full of fun, and it’s gratifying to see their characters end up as the heroes of the piece, but it still feels as if the book needs another update from its 2002 edition.
Despite the numerous problems with the book, we still have a feel-good, fluffy production. The musical numbers are extravagant and intelligent, the cast are an utter joy to watch, and Plews has mined some comedy gold from what could be a simply saccharine and silly show. Beautifully designed and costumed, this is a toe-tapping experience from start to finish.
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Milton Keynes Theatre
24th Jan – 28th Jan, 2017
Then continuing on tour. Details at -
© Carly Halse - Reviewed on Thursday 27th January 2017.