Derived in 2002 from the 1967 Julie Andrews movie, Thoroughly Modern Millie is thoroughly old fashioned. It’s sexist: all the women are actresses or typists; racist: landlady Mrs Meers feigns orientalism and speaks pantomime Cantonese to her migrant Hong Kong laundrymen; heteronormative: every flapper’s ambition is to secure a rich businessman husband and even white slavery is dismissed as “well, it’s one way to get a man”, but so heartwarming and jolly you can almost forgive its cartoon morality.
There are lots of debuts in this show, it’s a new production company ‘Small Dark Woodland Creatures’ (nope, me neither) and a brave musical first for director Matthew Iliffe although he could have embraced the cartoonishness of Millie even more boldly – Christina Meehan as queen bee of the typing pool Miss Flannery has it spot on, and both Samuel Harris‘s studly stuffed shirt Trevor Graydon and Steph Parry‘s villainous harpy Mrs Meers come close, but most of the cast aren’t there yet. Similarly, Chris Guard’s versatile band – complete with banjo – needs to relax and enjoy the free-range blues and jazz rhythms much more.
Where the show does come zinging off the stage is in Sam Spencer-Lane‘s sharp, inventive and avidly-drilled choreography, mixing jazz, breakaway, swingout, Charleston and some first-rate tapping. Casting director Anne Vosser has sourced a handful of high-waisted and long-legged boy dancers who really do these fluid routines justice and are a joy to watch.
Francesca Lara Gordon is a friendly Millie with a strong voice but the structure of the stage musical is different from the movie’s and makes her too confident too soon so you miss Andrews’ vulnerability and comic timing. She’s eclipsed by Sarah-Marie Maxwell as an extremely likeable Miss Dorothy who combines elegant singing with the acting chops, unlike Ben Stacey who’s a charming and subtly-sung Jimmy but remains unconvincing in the dialogue scenes. Chipo Kureya copes well with the role of jazz baby and bride-to-millionaire Muzzy van Hossmere but you can’t lay the ghost of Carol Channing so easily which highlights the fact this is an extremely young cast playing a wide age range, so there’s more than a tinge of student production about it.
Andrew Riley’s set is predictably Chrysler-building-derivative but exploits all corners of the Landor’s small patch and solves the tap-dancing elevator issue ingeniously. Both the set and the period-but-greyish costumes are given brush-strokes of class in Sam Waddington’s richly toned lighting design.
Not scenting a transfer, but an enjoyable evening nonetheless and another notch on the Landor’s increasingly successful ‘forgotten musicals’ gunbelt.
This review originally written for Londonist.
@paulinlondon and I made this just-out-of-the-theatre AudioBoom.
When we say ‘young and fresh’ we mean the cast, not the critics
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