Thoroughly Modern Millie
Paul Johnson | 28 Mar 2014 10:16am
Thoroughly Modern Millie began as a 1967 film written by Richard Morris, with Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore as the leads. Later revised by Dick Scanlan for the stage it opened on Broadway in 2002, winning six Tony Awards, including best musical. A pastiche. of 1920s New York, its wide-eyed heroine is desperate to be an independent ‘new woman’; a subplot about the white slave trade, a lift that moves to the command of tap-dancing feet, a speakeasy where people Charleston to a jazzed-up version of The Nutcracker, and a Chinese version of Al Jolson’s Mammy …. clearly this is not really a musical to take too seriously!
Under the direction of Richard Cooper, this first-rate orchestra delighted the audience with a sound that appeared ten times larger than their numbers warranted. Sadly the audience did not seem to appreciate that the overture was part of the show and constant conversations and sweet rustlings spoiled what should have been a strong opening whetting our appetite for the many familiar songs to come. However, the standard of play was exceptional and both linked the scenes and supported the cast beautifully.
The opening scene revealed an impressionistic style outline of the New York skyline in pastel colours, fronted by a series of freeze frames of ‘New Yorkers’ in classsic black and white outfits with a splash of red .. the straight lines and simple colours reminding the audience of the Art Deco style so representative of the period. This was a strong opening scene and Annalise Webb as Millie took control of the stage in her transformation fromSalinashick toNew Yorkflapper. In fact her performance throughout was strong and although some of the earlier songs could have been delivered with a little more vigour, as her voice warmed up her performance improved so that later numbers were delivered with a vibrancy and enthusiasm that was even more enjoyable as the result of some excellently acted scenes. Supported well by her would be suitor, Ashley Davis played Jimmy Smith with a vibrancy and charisma which was helped by an excellent singing voice. His engaging approach to the part and boyish charm had the audience rooting for him from the moment he declared his feelings for Millie.
The set was practical and inventive, particularly using the orchestra pit as the window ledge and the cleverly designed tap dancing lift, whilst the excellently choreographed office scenes, were enhanced by the brilliantly costumed secretaries and their Corona typewriters. However, the scene changes were very disappointing with the noise sometimes drowning out the action on stage and occasionally taking so long that the interlude music had run out and we were left waiting for the next scene to begin. The lighting also bordered on cliched with red lighting effects for the ‘evil’ Mrs Meers and a number of late/early cues. Having seen other productions at the Bob Hope Theatre recently where there were similar problems with scene changes and lighting this is perhaps something they need to review.
Directed expertly by Barbara Archer, the story was well played and well danced by a sterling cast, who made up with enthusiasm for what they lacked in singing voices. Often creating quite a thin and disappointing sound when singing, nonetheless the chorus of stenographers and Priscilla Girls acted their socks off and brought the stage to life with their dancing.
Great comedy value was achieved by a number of supporting characters, such as Mrs. Meers (played by Jeanette Wallis) as the washed-up-actress-turned-hotel-owner who ran a white slavery ring in Hong Kong and preyed on orphan girls checking into her hotel. She worked particularly well alongside the Chinese brothers Ching Ho (played by John Adcock) and Bun Foo (Stephen Milton). With their excellent timing, accents and facial expressions this comedic trio energized their scenes with ridiculous mannerisms which transported these moments into something reminiscent of Laurel and Hardy. Wayne Lawrence as Trevor Graydon also brought an entertaining energy to the part of the insurance company boss and one ofNew York’s most eligible bachelors.Lawrence’s eccentricity and beautifully choreographed scene on first meeting Dorothy Brown made Graydon a truly memorable character.
Sharon Filmer as Miss Flannery had some fabulous moments, particularly the opening of Act II when surrounded by skinny young typists the older, rather forceful office supervisor advises her young employees to: ‘Forget About the Boy’, as did Sarah Coleman as Muzzy Van Hossmere who gave both a sincere and memorable performance as the millionaire night club singer and step mother who married for love and gives excellent advice on everyone’s love life at the drop of hat. Miss Dorothy (Annie Sheen) as the antithesis of Millie, represented the naïve charm of the heiress looking for true love, and her strong, clear soprano voice was delightful; the audience reveled in her final choice of Ching Ho as a husband over the eminently more suitable Graydon.
However the final word must go to Jan Duckett and Jacky Webb for their costumes … and that word is awesome!
- : admin
- : 26/03/2014