New York in 1922. The Great War has been over for four years and it is another seven until the decade comes to a disastrous end with the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression. For a young girl from Salina, Kansas, New York is the epicentre a brave new world where the norms of the early twentieth century can be thrown out. Welcome to the world of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” which after a hiatus of twelve years is back in London at the Landor Theatre.
Millie Dillmount (Francesca Lara Gordon) has just arrived in town and is looking forward to a bright new future as one of the ‘Moderns’ when she gets mugged – losing her hat, scarf, bag and one shoe. Trying to get some help she trips up young Jimmy Smith (Ben Stacey), who laughs at her naivety and recommends she get on the next train home as she isn’t cut out for New York City life. Millie pooh-poohs his advice and moves into a local hotel, The Priscilla run by the mysterious and sinister Mrs Meers (Steph Parry) a woman who has a secret and a past, neither of which are good for her guests. Millie has an ultimate ambition, to marry a rich man and to that aim manages to get a job working for one of New York’s most eligible bachelors, Trevor Graydon III (Samuel Harris). Celebrating her new job Millie goes out on the town with her best friend, Dorothy Brown (Sarah-Marie Maxwell) and other friends from the hotel. They run into Jimmy once more and he gets them into a speakeasy. There is obviously a spark between Jimmy and Millie and he invites her to a party being given by famous singer Muzzy Van Hossmere (Chipo Kureya) and here the spark turns into a fire as Jimmy and Millie dance the night away.
Meanwhile, back at the hotel, Mrs Meers, along with her staff – Chin Ho (Alex Codd) and Bun Foo (Anthony Starr) has plans for young Dorothy and she sets to work implementing them. In a hotel and a city where everyone has a secret can Millie and Jimmy find love, or at least a wealthy marriage, can Dorothy be saved from the clutches of Mrs Meers and will somebody ever fix the tap dancing elevator?
I’m going to start off by being absolutely honest. Despite being a massive fan of musical theatre, “Thoroughly Modern Millie” really didn’t work for me. This is not, on the whole, the fault of the production itself. The problem is the book by Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan is just too flimsy to stand up. I know a lot of musicals have a light touch when it comes to story but this one really is the lightest ever relying on preposterous coincidences, racially stereotypical characters and improbable secrets to bring about a happy ending. Add to the lack of cohesive story musical numbers (composer Jeanine Tesori with lyrics by Scanlan) that for me produced only one memorable song throughout the show and the best production in the world is going to have trouble pulling off a great show.
Having said that, this production tries really hard to give the audience something memorable. Director Matthew Lliffe and Choreographer Sam Spencer Lane have put together a very slick, professional production that works pretty well in the intimate space of the Landor. Andrew Riley’s set, a lovely art deco wall and floor, combined with the fabulous costumes, really evokes the era nicely. The cast deliver a fast paced and energetic performance and it’s obvious they are putting their heart and soul into not only the show itself but making sure they don’t accidentally kick someone in the front row during some of the highly spirited incredibly choreographed dance numbers. Francesca and Ben are great in the lead roles of Millie and Jimmy and there is a lovely chemistry between them that suggests these two strangers could have met and fallen in love on the streets of New York. In fact all the actors were really good, often in multiple characters, although I did have an issue with Steph Parry’s Mrs Meers – and again I think this is more down to the writing more than anything else. I was never sure if Mrs Meers was meant to be a nasty villain, a pantomime villain or a bit of comic relief. Whatever she was I never really warmed to her apart from the solo number ‘They Don’t Know’ which Steph delivered beautifully drawing every last piece of emotion out of it as she went. Having the band, under Musical Director Chris Guard, on stage was nice although I would imagine if you were sat on their side of the stage then it would be more difficult to hear the words of the songs, but from where my companion and I were sat they were a perfect level to accompany the singing and both the overture and Entr’acte sounded really great.
To sum up then, “Thoroughly Modern Millie” is an okay musical that just didn’t really engage me emotionally. However, the production itself is superbly delivered by a rich and talented cast and is definitely worth a visit.
Review by Terry Eastham
SDWC Productions are proud to present the London revival of TONY Award winning musical Comedy Thoroughly Modern Millie
This new production marks the show’s triumphant return to London 11 years after it was first seen at the Shaftesbury Theatre in 2003.
Set to be a delightful explosion of pure musical theatre cheer, Thoroughly Modern Millie is a high-spirited romp that has all of New York dancing the Charleston. Taking place in New York City in 1922, Thoroughly Modern Millie tells the story of young Millie Dillmount, who has just moved to the city in search of a new life for herself. It’s a New York full of intrigue and jazz – a time when women were entering the workforce and the rules of love and social behaviour were changing forever.
Based on the popular movie and filled with frisky flappers, dashing leading men and a dragon-lady of a villainess, the infamous Mrs Meers, Thoroughly Modern Millie is a perfectly constructed evening of madcap merriment.
18th August – 13th September 2015
Tue- Sat 7.30pm, Sat and Sun 3pm
Box office: 020 7737 7276
Book by Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan
New Music by Jeanine Tesori
New Lyrics by Dick Scanlan
Original Story and Screenplay by Richard Morris for the Universal Pictures Film Presented by arrangement with JOSEF WEINBERGER LIMITED on behalf of MUSIC THEATRE INTERNATIONAL of New York. Originally Produced for Broadway by Michael Leavitt Fox Theatricals Hal Luftig Stewart F. Lane James L. Nederlander Independent Presenters Network L. Mages/M. Glick Berinstein/Manocherian/Dramatic Forces
John York Noble & Whoopi Goldberg
Thursday 27th August 2015