Sunday 23 August 2015

Theatre review: Thoroughly Modern Millie

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: The press night takes place later this week.

After premiering what could well be the best new musical of the year a couple of months ago, the Landor have looked to the past for a follow-up, with a 2000 musical, based on a 1967 film, set in 1922. Thoroughly Modern Millie is something of an oddity: It does feature original songs (by Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan) but these are interspersed with older songs from a variety of sources, from "My Mammy" (most associated with Al Jolson,) here performed in Chinese, to a Gilbert and Sullivan patter song, rewritten to become a boss dictating a letter to his stenographer. The stenographer in question is Millie (Francesca Lara Gordon,) who's moved from Kansas to New York to be a flapper and, in what she believes to be the most modern approach, marry for money. She identifies the suitably wealthy heir to an insurance company fortune, Trevor (Samuel Harris,) and takes a job as his secretary with complete certainty she'll soon be upgrading to his wife.

But naturally things don't work out quite as planned, and she soon meets the apparently penniless Jimmy (Ben Stacey,) who for all that seems to be able to get her into all the most fashionable places in town. Meanwhile they also have to break up a white slavery ring run by Millie's landlady Mrs Meers (Steph Parry,) a gangster masquerading as a racist stereotype.

Matthew Iliffe's production is technically very strong, with some decent vocals from the cast and great choreography - heavy on the tap and Charleston - from Sam Spencer Lane. The cast still need to relax into it a bit and, this only being the first week, I'm pretty confident they will have done once the production gets into its stride. Their hard work is necessary though, as I was far from sold on Tesori, Scanlan and Richard Morris' musical itself: The songs are decent but they're repeated and reprised to an infuriating degree, while the production has to lend some charm to a fairly charmless script: It's a romantic comedy they forgot to write any jokes into, the only laughs coming from Harris' Trevor, a stroppy millionaire who writes patter-song letters about floor wax, and with a leading lady who takes far too long to be revealed as anything other than a gold-digger. This is a fun evening and will be more so as the cast settle into the run, but it's mostly down to the production making the most of a disappointing script.

Thoroughly Modern Millie by Richard Morris, Dick Scanlan, Jeanine Tesori, Sammy Cahn, Jimmy Van Heusen, W. S. Gilbert, Arthur Sullivan, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Jay Thompson, Rida Johnson Young, Victor Herbert, Your Mum, Sam M. Lewis, Joe Young, and Walter Donaldson is booking until the 13th of September at the Landor Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes including interval.

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