'Thoroughly Modern Millie'
Not quite Shakespeare
by Patricia Somerset
March 9, 2005 -- Churchill Theatre, Bromley
Probably the best thing about "Thoroughly Modern Millie" is that it doesn't take itself seriously. Millie comes from Kanasas to make her way in New York. She stays at a hotel for actresses run by a white slave trader, Mrs. Meers, who is an American ex- convict pretending to be Chinese. Mrs. Meers is aided by two Chinese men whose mother she has promised to bring to the USA. Millie wants to marry her boss - whoever that might be! So, she gets a job as a typist and sets out to make the boss fall in love with her. Her plans go badly wrong when he meets and falls in love with her friend, Miss Dorothy Brown. There follow romnantic misunderstandings, foiling of the white slavery plot and revelations about the real wealth and status of the young man Millie first met and of Miss Dorothy Brown.
It is predictable; it is meant to be, because it is a joke. And there is a nice little twist at the end as far as which couples live happily ever after. It may not be Shakespeare, but it is certainly a much more complex plot than that of many "serious" dance performances I've seen.
No, you probably won't come out of the theatre humming the tunes, but most of the songs were part of the narrative rather than intended to stand alone. Everyone in the show gave high quality performances. "Thoroughly Modern Millie" is a fun show, but this didn't mean that the standard of the performers was any less than professional and entertaining. The singing was excellent throughout. The leads had good voices and put the songs across well. I particularly enjoyed the cod love song between Trevor Graydon (Andrew Kennedy) and Miss Dorothy Brown (Robyn North), rightly sung seriously and with passion. The orchestra, under Musical Director Chris Hatt, played very well and made the most of the score. It was all quite loud the night we were there, but this was mentioned to Churchill staff and I imagine the problem will have been addressed, though it didn't bother me that much anyway.
Of course, the central role is Millie, which has to be played with vivacity and good comic timing. Donna Steele had these in abundance. Robyn North, too, played her part beautifully and again with great comic timing. Richard Reynard was a plesant Jimmy Smith who Millie falls in love with. He provided an excellent foil for the more flamboyant performances.
Lesley Joseph was very entertaining as Mrs. Meers. I don't think it's a very well written role, but she certainly made the most of it. Her Chinese sidekicks (acutally Malaysian, Unku and Thai, Yo Santhaveesuk) played their parts well, but again they were not given a great deal by the writing. However, I'd go to the show again just to see their and Lesley Joseph's outrageous rendering of "Mammy" (complete with Chinese sub-titles!).
Grace Kennedy played the singer, Muzzy van Hossmere, who dispensed wise words to Millie with aplomb. It was disappointing that the songs Grace Kennedy had to sing were not very interesting. They were not part of the narrative in the same way as the others so this might have given the opportunity of writing something more memorable, especially as Grace Kennedy has a lovely, deep jazzy voice and it would have been good to hear her singing something better.
The dance was lively and good to watch (Choreographer Rob Ashford, Tour Choreographer Chris Bailey) and sometimes quirkily humourous, as when the stenographers tapped their way on to the stage with fingers typing in time to the sounds of their feet. Nicola Blackman as Miss Flannery was delightfully over the top in her role and could do a mean tap dance as well.
The sets were designed by David Gallo and were an original and exciting backdrop to the show. As for the costume - they were just stunning. The costume designer, Michael Pakledinaz, did a wonderful job, not just with designs that were beautiful to look at but also with those in keeping with the characters, for instance the pretty flowery creations for Miss Dorothy Brown and the checked stenographers' uniforms. Miss Flannery's costume was perfect for her role.
If you want a show that is amusing, good to look at and listen to, then "Thoroughly Modern Millie" is the show for you. It provided a most enjoyable evening.
Edited by Staff.
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