BWW Review: THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE, Churchill Theatre, Bromley
This take on the Hollywood classic Thoroughly Modern Millie last played Broadway back in 2002. However, regardless of the cast's plucky efforts to inject some New York panache into proceedings, Millie emerges as a particularly poor choice for revisiting in 2017.
The story features threads that sit uncomfortably in the present day. Mrs Meers, with her chopstick-clad hair and mock Chinese accent, is amusing for ten minutes, but after a couple of scenes just seems plain racist. Millie's chunk of the plot hangs on the idea that she needs to find a rich man to marry to get on in life. Where do I even start with that one?
The staging and set design are strong and the look of Millie would not seem out of place on a West End stage. The Twenties flapper costumes sparkle. The dusky jazz clubs smoulder and the frenetic office scenes are well choreographed. The ensemble also works hard to evoke the boom-time era and are faithfully energetic throughout. Sadly, however, too many of the songs are forgettable (the well-known title track is soon done and dusted) and some ruthless cutting is needed to hold the audience for its duration.
The cast's characterisation is disappointingly one-dimensional. Millie is nearly three hours in length and it's a chore when one does not especially care for the characters or their self-absorbed dilemmas. Joanne Clifton as Dillmount is a credible and strong vocalist as well as a dynamic dancer who lifts the ensemble numbers to greater heights.
However, her characterisation of Millie is grating. She's a spunky Kansas girl, straight off the bus, full of vim and vigour and almost unbearable positivity. With her New Yuwerk twang and her emotional range only able to deliver at 100%, Millie seems almost cartoonish by the climax as she emerges triumphantly from a linen basket, exposing the corrupt hotel owner, Mrs Meers (Lucas Rush). Clifton's heart clearly lies with a career in musical theatre now. She is mighty talented however lacks experience in pulling off a likeable protagonist at this early point in her theatrical journey.
A more textured performance comes from Graham McDuff as wealthy business executive Trevor Graydon. Graydon is the attractive, aloof socialite type Millie aspires to marry in the first act before his spectacular fall from grace in Act Two as a drunkard mourning his rejection by aspiring airhead Dorothy Brown (Katherine Glover). McDuff milks this scene to perfection; it's a shame it comes so late in the show. Clifton and Sam Barrett (pauper love interest, Jimmy) were visibly corpsing at his antics on this opening night in Bromley and it was the one endearing moment of the whole show.
Jenny Fitzpatrick portrays the theatrical but worldly wise songstress Muzzy Van Hossmere effortlessly. Her smooth, soulful vocals are a refreshing gear change from the high-pitched wailing of the other aspiring actresses who reside at Mrs Meers' hotel. Her stage presence is all consuming in the sultry "Only in New York" that brings Act One to a near close. She commands the few scenes she features in, even if the only function of the Van Hossmere character is to tell Millie to "follow her heart".
The cast work diligently through the material they are given here, however with the likes of 42nd Street and An American in Paris currently reigning in the West End featuring epic ensembles and original choreography, one feels the producers were handed a bit of a dud with this obviously more dated show. Millie is sadly anything but modern.
Thoroughly Modern Millie tours until 15 July
Photo credit: Darren Bill