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Thoroughly Modern Millie at Milton Keynes Theatre

Published by: Alison Smith on 28th Jan 2017 | View all blogs by Alison Smith


Review by Alison Smith

There are two great stars in this production of Thoroughly Modern Milly. The first of course is the leading lady, the multi-talented Joanne Clifton, well known for her excellent dancing, she must now be recognised as a true musical star with her impressive singing voice and perfect comic timing. The second accolade goes to Graham MacDuff, who played the part of Mr Trevor Graydon; his love-at-first-sight scene with the Miss Dorothy was captivating in its ridiculousness, his drunk scene was reminiscent of the antics of Charlie Chaplin and Dudley Moore and in the finale his kicks and flicks nearly surpassed those of Milly. Of course this is not to say that the other actors did not perform well, for example Sam Barrett as Jimmy Smith and Jenny Fitzpatrick as Muzzy. I was disappointed, however, by Michelle Collins. Her stereotypical performance as Mrs Meers  was too much like a pantomime witch; her appearance was vaguely amusing – chopsticks and  yellow hue, but her cackling, lisping language made her hard to understand.

 What is Mrs Meers role? She is the landlady of the boarding house where Milly lives. The scene is New York in the 1920s, the era of ‘modern’ women, such as Milly, who leave for the big city to live life to the full. Milly is modern in the sense that she wants to be independent, but only to a certain degree – her aim is to marry her boss, the owner of Sincere Trust Insurance Company.  Of course there would be no show if she achieved that aim. Her boss, (Graydon) falls in love with Milly’s best friend, Miss Dorothy (Katherine Glover – superb voice) who falls in love with Ching Ho, who saves her from Mrs Meers’ dastardly white slave trade to China. (Is this change from the original plot, where Dorothy and Graydon fall in love, a nod to political correctness in 2017 or just a way to evoke laughter?)  Milly, despite her determination to marry well, falls head over heels in love with Jimmy Smith , who is pretending to be a poor paper-clip salesman (I am in steel) so a girl will love him for himself not for his money, when he is, in fact ,the brother of Miss  Dorothy. It turns out that they are the step children of Muzzy Van Hossmere, an eccentric, widowed millionairess. (Book by Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan)

 The fact that the musical is based in the 20s, famous for prohibition and flappers is a great opportunity for exciting music, great choreography and wonderful costumes. The band  of 7 led by Christopher Peak is outstanding, playing with verve and flair numbers such as Forget about the Boy,  I Turned the Corner and most notably Thoroughly Modern Millie.(New music by Jeanine Tesori).The choreography (Racky Plews) is sometimes exciting, especially the tap dancing typists, the ensemble’s Charleston, the Speed Test and Milly’s solos. As for the Roaring Twenties costumes – cloches, sequins, fringes, bar-shoes - they are present in abundance. The stage set is Art Deco - think the Chrysler building in New York - and practical;  I did like the modernist lift and lights and the moveable boarding house. And yet there are moments of dullness when the stage seems empty and this gives the impression that the musical is overly long. This could be overcome by having a bigger ensemble – guys dressed as flapper girls, although amusing for a moment, add little to the 1920s atmosphere – and more excitement is needed; it was the Jazz Age, the Roaring Twenties, The Age of the Red Hot Mamas, Annees Folles, - we were not given enough of this.

Thoroughly Modern Millie is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 28th January and then on tour.


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