Thoroughly Modern Millie
Richard Morris and Dick Scanlon with new music by Jeanine Tesoro and new lyrics by Dick Scanlon
New Victoria Theatre, Woking
From 08 May 2017 to 13 May 2017
Review by Sheila Connor
This all-singing, all-dancing musical pastiche/parody is based on the 1967 film written as a vehicle for Julie Andrews following and emulating the huge success enjoyed by The Boy Friend, both set in the Roaring Twenties, a time of flappers, bright-young-things and prohibition.
The story here is rather incidental to the music and dancing and follows Millie as she arrives in New York from Kansas, determined to be a modern girl, to "raise her skirts and bob her hair", and take charge of her own life by planning to marry a rich man. Rather an odd concept for a modern independent girl, however she sets her sights on her boss, and sticks religiously to her plan in spite of a distinct lack of encouragement.
Checking into a "hotel for young ladies", it’s not long before she notices the young ladies disappearing one by one, and we’re in the middle of the white slave trade run by a criminal on the run (Lucas Rush) disguised as an eerily weird Chinese Mrs Meers and the game is afoot.
Millie is Joanne Clifton, winner of the latest Strictly Come Dancing where she provided some stunningly inventive choreography for Ore Oduba. So we knew she could dance, but she can sing too with a delightfully engaging voice and throws herself into the role with an energy and enthusiasm I can only envy.
Ensemble follow her example; the show is a whirlwind of high speed song and dance numbers with the lyrics clearly enunciated and happily not drowned by the music—which is not always the case.
Morgan Large’s elegant and versatile set forms the backdrop to street, hotel, typing pool etc. taking in the elevator scene from the film and even the twenty storeys high outside ledge where would-be boyfriend Jimmy is balanced in an effort to see his love. Jimmy (played with an easy nonchalance by handsome Sam Barrett) is apparently penniless—will Millie’s quest for an easy life prevail or will heart rule her head?
The typing pool provides some fascinating seated tap dance numbers and is also an opportunity for Millie to show off her shorthand skills, reading back a long and intricate letter at exceptionally high speed without the need to draw breath. This girl is amazing.
On the acting side, however, there is far too much posturing and posing awkwardly in an effort to evoke the period in a comical way but this just falls flat on its face, as does the very upright, uptight Mr Trevor Graydon, played superbly by Graham MacDuff until the demon drink takes over and his legs cease to function. His drunken scene, overdone and overlong in my opinion yet very cleverly portrayed, almost caused a riot from several rows behind me, and appreciative cheers at curtain call.
Strong support provided from Katherine Glover as rich friend Miss Dorothy, the Chinese brothers (Nick Len and Andy Vau) are great fun and Jenny Fitzpatrick is Muzzy van Hossmere to the manor born.
There are a few groan-worthy jokes thrown in almost accidentally and, while the standing ovation seemed a bit over the top, it is a very enjoyable evening with some great musical numbers.