Cashing in on the excitement and glamour of the flappers and moderns of 1920s New York, Thoroughly Modern Millie is an entertaining romp through the prohibition-shadowed streets of NY. The show follows Millie Dillmount, a girl from Kansas who is looking to find a new life for herself in the big city by getting a job and marrying her boss. The Down With Love-meets-Wizard of Oz story opens up opportunities for many characters, trials and cheerful resolutions. While sometimes living up to the promise of glitz and glamour, the production has dips of interest where what it needs is large injections of fun.
The stand-out performance for me came from Sarah-Marie Maxwell as the naive and wealthy Miss Dorothy Brown, who exploded onto the stage in ‘How the Other Half Lives’ and never failed to electrify the scene every time she entered. Her romantic narrative with Trevor Grayon – played wonderfully by Samuel Harris – was also a highlight of the show, their meeting duet ‘Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life’ reveling in the the surreal delight of Thoroughly Modern Millie that made it such a popular show.
Francesca Lara Gordon gives an accomplished performance as Millie, with her smooth vocals pitch-perfect every time. However, while carrying a show like this the performance feels a little under-energised at times, with the soaring and desperate ‘Gimme Gimme’ falling a little flat of it’s 11-o-clock-number billing. Ben Stacey’s male lead Jimmy Smith is similarly well-sung but with moments of confusion. When together on stage, the two ignite each other and their duets are some of the nicest moments of the production, but the feeling of playing it straight doesn’t quite gel with the surreal and quirky storyline of the show.
Steph Parry’s Mrs Meers is a comic joy to watch, switching deftly between her cover-up of an innocent Asian hotel owner to super-villain extraordinaire with perfect timing. Her character numbers are great and the audience feel very safe in this performer’s hands. Similarly, Chipo Kureya’s glamorous Muzzy Van Hosmere brings a dash of over the top sophistication to the show, the audience never doubting her status as a New York socialite.
When this production really comes alive is the company numbers, with the supporting cast giving absolutely everything whenever they are on stage. In these snippets we get the super-energised camp that this show is screaming out for so often but only occasionally sees. Big ensemble numbers ‘Forget About the Boy’ and ‘The Speed Test’ are well choreographed and pitched just right for the show’s style.
It is early days in the run of this revival, and it does feel like the show is still finding it’s feet. Millie is a big show, and to attempt it is no small challenge and, while very enjoyable, the production feels like it lacks that extra oomph to push it into the leagues of unstoppable Fringe musicals. Well performed and very well sung, it just feels like the whimsy and strangeness of the book need to be embraced and loved a little more and this will go from being a great production to something unmissable.
Thoroughly Modern Millie is running at the Landor Theatre until 13 September. For more info and tickets, see the Landor Theatre website. Photo by Richard Davenport.