modern mille

Joanne Clifton as Millie

Thoroughly Modern Millie

The New Alexandra Theatre


IF YOU were looking to write a musical with a solid base of political incorrectness, then Thoroughly Modern Millie could just be the blueprint you are looking for.

The current production though suffers from being something of a derivative, with ideas culled from the 1956 stage musical, the 1967 movie musical and the 2002 Broadway show.

You would need to study each incarnation to appreciate the creative changes and additions that have occurred over the years, but what is left still remains a bizarre plot.

A failed actress masquerading as a Chinese lady runs a cheap hotel for girls in New York. When she finds a guest who is an orphan she drugs them and sends them off into the white slave trade. Meanwhile, one new guest, Millie a stenographer, gets a new job and sets out to seduce her boss into marriage.

That’s simplifying it maybe, but to fully appreciate this current show you need to ignore the plot and just concentrate on some individually well staged performances. These are played out against a dynamic art deco set and the effective lighting adds a colourful sense of glamour to the polished dance routines.

Unlike other musicals, other than the key theme song Thoroughly Modern Millie, it’s the only musical number that you might know. There is new material by composer Jeanine Tesori with lyrics by Dick Scanlan which are added to the original score but the net result is that it’s all a little unfamiliar. What’s left is rather disconnected and it’s only the skill and professionalism of the cast, under the lead of director and choreographer Racky Plews that rescues this madcap comedy.

East Enders star Michelle Collins plays Mrs Meers the hotel owner complete with kimono and severe Pidgin English. The latter meant that much of what she said was indistinguishable.  Thankfully the full Chinese of her partners in crime, Ching Ho and Bun Foo, played by Maltese-born Damian Buhagiar and Hong Kong trained Andy Yau respectively; have their dialogue projected as surtitles on a tiny screen .Collins performance as Mrs Meers would have benefitted from this too.

The antics of the Chinese trio are all very pantomime and at odds with the quality of the show's straight central performances of sweethearts Millie and Jimmy. These are played by Strictly Dancing Professional Joanne Clifton and the elegant Sam Barrett.

Whilst the big ensemble numbers shine, it was the simple intimacy of a scene with the pairing singing I turned the Corner whilst dancing in front of the company’s logo that was memorable. Unfortunately it was the only point whereby any romantic emotion was created.

Miss Clifton proved she has a more than capable musical theatre singing voice but the best vocal performance was Jenny Fitzpatrick as Muzzy Van Hossmere who blew the roof off with a belter of a performance singing Only in New York. Another individual performance that was noteworthy but unrelated to the plot was Graham MacDuff as Trevor Graydon. He created a lot of laughter with a drunk routine and although it was an enjoyable interlude it seemed like an afterthought.

If you are a fan of the movie version with its madcap comedy, vaudeville jazz and energy then you are sure to appreciate the additional layers of glamour and dance that have been added here to the original formulae. It’s hard not to appreciate the sheer professionalism within this six Tony Awards winning show and if you are patient to endure the dialogue and segues between the songs and big dance routines, you are guaranteed to have a thoroughly enjoyable evening. To 18-02-17

Jeff Grant


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