Thoroughly Modern Millie*** (Landor Theatre)

Posted: August 28, 2015 in Theatre
Thoroughly Modern Millie Photo Credit: ©Richard Davenport 2015,, 07545642134

Photo Credit: ©Richard Davenport

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews:

The Landor is at it again, condensing a big Broadway musical to fit into its small space. However, the theatre has earned its reputation from working on shows that have mostly been far better than this one, so much of the interest comes from seeing whether the little pub venue can deploy the talents at its disposal to redeem it. Thoroughly Modern Millie began life as a 1967 Julie Andrews film with new songs by Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan being combined with standards. In 2002 Scanlan joined forces with Richard Morris to adapt his screenplay for a Tony Award winning Broadway musical which transferred to the West End (starring Amanda Holden) a year later. The show is a lively look at New York in the Roaring Twenties, but it is dogged by the flimsiest of storylines and too many songs that are little better than so-so. Francesca Lara Gordon’s Millie is sassy and haughty, arriving in the big city from Kansas with her head filled by a 1922 version of feminism. She lands in a world of flappers, prohibition, speakeasies and the Charleston, determined to succeed by marrying a rich boss. Instead, she falls for Ben Stacey’s very likeable Jimmy, a smooth-talking chancer. Our heroine checks into a hotel run by Mrs Meers, a Chinese landlady who takes an aversion to “Mirrie” because she deems her unsuitable for use in her sideline – white slavery. Steph Perry never looks comfortable in the role of Meers and much of the comedy involving her and her two porters falls flat. In fairness, it must be said that, judged my modern (2015 that is) standards, the depiction in the script of these characters feels tasteless. Of the better songs, The Speed Test, with a tongue-twisting lyric in praise of stenography, stands out. Written and performed in the style of Gilbert & Sullivan, it is a real gem. And then the second half of the show is kickstarted when the girls join together to sing and tap dance their way through Forget About the Boy, which yields the bonus of helping us to forget about the plot. Director Matthew Iliffe conjures up a bubbly production with many inventive little touches. His young 12-strong company, most of them doubling up roles, serves him well and, very wisely, he calls upon the skills of his choreographer, Sam Spencer Lane, at every possible opportunity. Above all else, it is the dancing that makes this production work, but Chris Guard’s five- piece band produces a great, jazzy sound, whilst Andrew Riley’s period costumes and art deco set evoke the right feel of 1920s New York. Iliffe’s production manages to transcend some, if not quite all, of the musical’s problems. Insubstantial and quickly forgettable it may be, but this show is still rarely less than good fun.

Performance date: 26 August 2015

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