Book: Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan
New Music: Jeanine Tesori
New Lyrics: Dick Scanlan
Director: Racky Plews
Reviewer: John Roberts
Originally a film vehicle for Oscar Award-winning Julie Andrews in 1967, this stage version was bound for Broadway in 2002 with a new book by Richard Morris, Dick Scanlan and music from Jeanine Tesori – that season the show won six Tony Awards. The show may have struck a chord almost two decades ago and there is plenty to enjoy in this coming-of-age tale set in the roaring 20s, however the show also has its faults and they don’t seem to be addressed correctly in this new UK tour directed by Racky Plews.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way from the top – in our current climate and after the many protests regarding yellow face casting in the industry it seems a totally foolhardy decision from Plews and indeed producer David King to cast Michelle Collins as Mrs Meers a hotelier who is also the face of a white slavery ring in Hong Kong – the performance is even complete with what can only be described as offensive pidgin English, it’s a shame that a performer of Collins’ stature and talent should succumb to such an ill thought out role. Flip the coin the other way round and the gamble to give Strictly Come Dancing’s Joanne Clifton the role of the money seeking Millie Dillmount pays off on almost every level – of course Clifton’s acting can be refined a fair bit – she has a tendency to slip into the overdramatic more often than not, but she can belt out a number with clarity, strength and conviction and of course her dancing feet get displayed at every possible opportunity.
A strong set of supporting roles come thanks to Sam Barrett as the loveable rogue Jimmy Smith, Jenny Fitzpatrick gives some velvet-voiced magic as Muzzy Van Hossmere and Damian Buhagiar and Any Yau as Ching Ho and Bun Foo provide some loveable comedy, even if we do have to try and keep track of mistimed surtitles which are incredibly hard to read in such a large venue as the Empire.
Morgan Large’s monochromatic art deco styled set is visually enticing and provides a classy stage for the action to play out on especially when paired with Paul Gould’s lighting design which sets the glitz, glamour and sparkle of the many sequins on show in the costume design. While Plews’ direction is a mixed bag (a major tonal difference between both acts jar as a whole), her choreography is a delight and pulls out many enjoyable moments with showcases her technical flair are vast knowledge of musical theatre genres.
Thoroughly Modern Millie will not go down in musical theatre history as an enduring classic and sadly this touring production will do little to change that opinion, it’s an interesting museum piece but sadly lacks the punch needed to be a theatrical highlight.
Runs until 25th February 2016 | Image: Darren Bell