Based on the 1967 film starring Julie Andrews, which was itself inspired by the 1956 British musical Chrysanthemum, Jeanine Tesoro, Dick Scanlan and Richard Morris’ musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, has always had considerable shortcomings. While some outstanding cast members and a polished set design by Morgan Large elevate the source material in this production, this pastiche written in 2002, remains lacking that certain spark a show needs to be truly entertaining.
It’s 1922 and small-town girl Millie Dillmount comes to big city New York to marry for money rather than love, but events take a sinister turn when she checks into the Hotel Priscilla for single women, not knowing it’s owned by Mrs Meers, the leader of a white slavery ring.
Racky Plews’ current production does little to address the show’s many faults. Instead of skilfully evoking the era, it feels uncomfortably out of step and in 2017, increasingly offensive. While it may be argued that the character of Mrs Meers, a pantomime “Chinese” landlady, is sending up racial stereotypes, the recent yellowface casting controversy in Howard Barker’s play In The Depths of Dead Love, means that any director allowing such a grotesque characterisation, even if it’s played for comedy, as that of Michelle Collins (chopsticks in hair, unintelligible Pidgin English), really needs to be called to account for their choices. There are also some uncomfortably out of date sexual references which would make any feminist’s toes curl and the running time is an issue at a posterior-numbing two hours 45 minutes – some judicious trimming wouldn’t go amiss.
Save for the title tune, the music is utterly unforgettable despite clever borrowings from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore and Victor Herbert’s Naughty Marietta, most songs, like the musical itself, are over-long. So it’s down to the cast to save the show. Strictly Come Dancing‘s current champion, Joanne Clifton, is undoubtedly a fine dancer, and in possession of a surprisingly effective voice, but she lacks the acting chops to pull this off completely convincingly. In support, both Katherine Glover as Millie’s naive roommate Dorothy Brown and Graham MacDuff as her boss Trevor Graydon are superb. MacDuff, in particular, gives a masterclass in comic acting. The ensemble is universally first class.
Shining bright above all else in the production is Morgan Large’s Art Deco set (borrowed from a previous production staged at Kilworth House), shimmering silvery grey, it transforms seamlessly between the show’s locations.
This remains a show with a dodgy plot and characters, and a host of largely forgettable tunes, but the beautiful set and the hugely talented, well-drilled cast are enough to make it an amusing distraction for a dull winter’s evening.
This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub
Image: Darren Bell