Book: Richard Morris & Dick Scanlan
New Music: Jeanine Tesori
New Lyrics: Dick Scanlan
Director: Racky Plews
Musical Director: Rob Wicks
Reviewer: Rob Atkinson
On the face of it, the traditional “boy meets girl, they have issues, but end up happy ever after” musical theatre story is unlikely to be aided by the addition of a subplot around what they used to call “white slavery”. This was referred to, of course, in scandalised, hushed tones, to distinguish the enhanced horror of white slavery from the more traditional sort. Then again, we are dealing here with the social and cultural mores of the nineteen-twenties. But the fact is that the dual strands of Thoroughly Modern Millie combine beautifully, providing the basis for a spectacular evening of song, dance – and the kind of comedy genius guaranteed to give your chuckle muscles a proper workout.
This is also a show that has just recovered superbly from a slightly odd initial casting decision, whereby former Eastender Michelle Collins was thanklessly tasked with the portrayal of Chinese hotelier Mrs Meers. But, after six weeks of incongruous and arguably inappropriate characterisation, the problem has been brilliantly solved by making “Mrs Meers” a drag character, concealing a male villain operating his wicked human trafficking scheme behind an hotelier’s facade. Lucas Rush pulls off this dual role brilliantly, switching effortlessly between one and the other to maximum comic effect, with many sardonic asides in a show-stealing performance. It’s a clever device to get the production adroitly out of a hole of its own digging, but it’s one also that adds something new and wonderful to an already brilliant show.
Because, make no mistake, Thoroughly Modern Millie, although always slightly underrated, has such a lot to offer. To fulfil its potential, it requires a diminutive, feisty brunette as Millie, a charmingly roguish playboy type for her eventual love interest Jimmy Smith, and a glossily handsome yet romantically bumbling Trevor Graydon, the boss ruthlessly targeted by Millie as her modern girl path to Easy Street. BBC Strictly star and Yorkshire lass Joanne Clifton fits the bill superbly as Millie, sharing real chemistry with tall, handsome and tuneful Sam Barrett as Jimmy, in a great on-stage partnership that includes a revelatory duet several stories high. Both Clifton and Barrett also have the opportunity to captivate the audience with accomplished solos; an opportunity they do not neglect.
Sincere Trust boss Graydon is played to perfection by Graham MacDuff, who treats the audience to an accomplished comedy drunk and performs a brilliant pastiche of an old time classic love duet with the equally effective Katherine Glover as Miss Dorothy Brown. Another high point, incidentally, is the intricately clever meshed duet between Millie and Miss Dorothy, one of the best examples of point and counterpoint you’ll see. Andy Tau, as Bun Foo and Damian Buhagiar, as the love-struck and lovable Ching Ho, work well together with the aid of a surtitles display to assist both comprehension and comedy.
Able comic support is provided by Catherine Mort as the fearsomely-coiffured and booming Miss Flannery, while Jenny Fitzpatrick gives a vocal performance as socialite Muzzy van Hossmere that ranges effortlessly from the velvety to the powerful. There are two numbers for Fitzpatrick that would be show-stoppers in most productions – but Millie is full of show-stoppers.
Such a diverse set of characters and some fairly unattractive themes such as gold-digging and human exploitation – and yet the whole is an evening’s entertainment that never palls, maintaining its pace and replete with moments to remember. It’s a visual treat with the cast adorning an effective set, and a treat for the ears also, Rob Wicks’ musical ensemble doing justice to an inventive score. Overall, and especially now that the casting has been suitably tweaked, Thoroughly Modern Millie is strongly recommended and not to be missed if at all possible.
Runs until 22nd April 2017 | Image: Darren Bell