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Showtime Challenge 48-Hour Musicals’ production of Thoroughly Modern Millie – Review

Anna-Jane Casey
Anna-Jane Casey – Photo by Darren Bell

It is incredible what Showtime Challenge 48-Hour Musicals can do. Tonight, they did it for the 6th time! They rehearsed and staged a high caliber West End musical in only 48 hours. Thoroughly Modern Millie was excellently performed, choreographed, designed and orchestrated. All proceeds go towards the charity Mind, in aid of better mental health.

The website for Showtime Challenge 48-Hour Musicals had a timer on it this weekend located at the very top similar to a banner; a timer ticked down the time left from Friday 7:30pm when rehearsals began, to Sunday 7:30pm when the show opened at the Adelphi Theatre for one night only. How it works: Intense auditions occur to narrow down around 100+ of the best professionals and amateurs triple threats (dancer, singer, actor) who are also team players (for reasons I’m sure you can imagine). From there, once the show is cast, everyone receives a script and score to learn and study on their own. This includes the 30-piece orchestra. Rehearsing the material with others is against the rules.

Everyone gathered Friday night, counted down to 7:30 and then rehearsals began. Twenty rooms of rehearsals occurred simultaneously. By Saturday night they had their one and only full run-through and Sunday morning they moved into the theatre for tech, including costumes, sets and props.

If I’m not mistaken, this then means that the performance itself may be the first run-through on the stage; if so, this brings up a few more questions. If Kinky Boots normally lives in the Adelphi Theatre and for one day only, the theatre is kidnapped by the Thoroughly Modern Millie cast and crew, would they have had time to redo the lighting grid? It seems very unlikely given the time restrictions. But then, following that train of thought, if Thoroughly Modern Millie was then using Kinky Boots’ lighting plot, that would mean that the director and the choreographer would have had to direct and choreograph the entire show around a lighting plot that was already established in the theatre – which would be a daunting task in and of itself.

There is not enough I could say about the direction and choreography. I can only attempt to explain it by saying it was spectacular. I was thoroughly impressed with what the massive directing & choreography teams were able to create. The choreography was just wonderful and brilliant. In one number dancers literally sneaked into the scene when dancers were near the wings, by doing a turn out of the wings and joining them into the choreography on stage as if they had been in the number for the full song. Within one number the number of people on stage tripled, all of them having sneakily joined through dancing out of the wings as if they had always been part of the group. It was so cleverly done; if I hadn’t spotted one male dancer appear this way I wouldn’t have known how they had suddenly tripled in numbers within one verse.

The choreography was epic. The choreographer, Ashley Nottingham, deserves a standing ovation, as does his massive team of assistants (7 assistants and 6 dance captains). The orchestra was outstanding and was stationed on stage for the entire performance – upstage centre for all to see.

Above their head was a screen, which showed humorous subtitles for the lines of two of the main characters (Thoroughly Modern Millie is a bilingual musical). It was a surprise to see one of those two main characters, Cletus Chan (who played Ching Ho), on stage as I had happened to see him on stage, 48 hours earlier, elsewhere.

This would mean that while everyone else was starting rehearsals Friday night, Chan was doing his last performance in a different show, in a completely different city, thus giving him even less time to rehearse than the others. It certainly did not show!

Amy Perry who played the lead role of Millie had incredibly strong vocals. Her renditions of ‘Forget About the Boy’ and ‘Gimme Gimme’ were especially impressive and flawless. Anna-Jane Casey, who played Muzzy, continued to dazzle and shine whether she was standing still or being carried and lifted around by six dashing men. It is such a large cast that I couldn’t say something about all of them, except for the fact that every single one of them should be incredibly proud of themselves for what they have just accomplished.

The costume design and design, in general, was very clever. Every large scene had its own color palette created through the costumes of the 10-30 performers on stage. For example, the strong opening scene was blue/teal/grey/khaki, while the second scene was white/pink/beige/rose/grey. The staging of the performers was absolutely wonderful. One can only imagine the unbelievable amount of hours that went into prepping for this show.

There was a scene with a stage full of typewriters, which turned to face centre stage, where the character Millie was, at a very clever point in the song. I was continuously impressed by the ensemble and their talent as they entertained, danced, and sang away; I couldn’t understand how they had memorized all of this choreography, until curtain call when they came out and there were about 100+ of them on stage. Later on, the individual typewriter stations, with an attached chair, were then brilliantly reused as restaurant tables for 2, somehow transformed by only the adding of a tablecloth on top and a chair on the opposite side.

It seems strange to comment on the following but I was very impressed; After the song ‘Gimme Gimme’, there was an incredible scene change that transitioned, with the set furniture being removed with the synchronicity of choreography and what I could have sworn would have been weeks of practice.

The power of theatre was astoundingly strong inside of the Adelphi Theatre. One can only imagine that the stage management team and production team must have had the precision of the military and there must have been a small army of them backstage. If you want something done well, give it to people who work in theatre. If anyone had any doubts, tonight is the strongest of examples of how we can create anything in theatre – we are only limited by the power of our imagination. We can create anything and we do not have to sacrifice quality. I’m looking forward to the next Showtime Challenge. Bravo to everyone involved!

5 Star Rating

Review by Julie Bergevin

Showtime Challenge 48-Hour Musicals puts together fully-staged musicals, complete with orchestra, choreography and costume in just 48 hours. The cast meet for the first time on Friday night, and then on Sunday night the curtain goes up at a major West End theatre, and IT’S SHOWTIME!

It’s an electric, inspiring experience for the cast and audience. And what’s more – all profits go to a great cause. The chosen charity for this show is Mind, providing advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem.

Open auditions are held, casting a mix of professional actors and super-talented amateurs.
Past cast members have included nurses, lawyers, accountants and firemen! This allows
people to gain experience, realize their dreams and discover what they are capable of
when they pull together.

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1 thought on “Showtime Challenge 48-Hour Musicals’ production of Thoroughly Modern Millie – Review”

  1. I am pleased to say I was there in the audience and thoroughly enjoyed the show, It was a brilliant performance and the work that went into the production was immense and everyone should be rightly proud of their achievement. Also it did seem to appear that a great majority of the audience was made up of their peers which I can only imagine made it even more daunting for everyone concerned. An amazing night that I will remember for many years to come and I journeyed home to Stoke on Trent with a huge grin on my face and happy thoughts.

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