Thoroughly Modern Millie
Milton Keynes Theatre (UK Tour)
26 January 2017
Tour Information & Book Tickets
Since my youth, I have been a fan of the movie Thoroughly Modern Millie. The movie’s ridiculous, frivolous comedy, bright music and incredible cast, made it impossible not to enjoy watching it in endless repeats when it was shown on television. It was with that mindset that I approached the new stage production currently touring the UK last night at the Milton Keynes Theatre. It’s the first time, in a long time that I wish I hadn’t bothered.
I think that a great deal of what turned this favourite of mine into Thoroughly Monotonous Mush has to do with the adaptation which was undertaken by Richard Morris and Dick Scanlon (Book), Jeanine Tesori (New Music) and Dick Scanlan (New Lyrics). There’s just no excitement in this slow paced and really dreary show. The importation of Gilbert & Sullivan into the show too seems a lazy alternative to writing something from scratch. The nail in the coffin for me structurally was that at the end of the musical Dorothy Brown, rather than ending up with Trevor Graydon is left in the hands of one of the accomplices to the white slave trader Mrs Meers. It is just inconceivable that this ending could be considered acceptable. Comedic he may be but the fact remains he would be destined for a life in prison.
There are major problems with this production and I’m prepared to lay most of them at the feet of director Racky Plews. Both Michelle Collins as Mrs Meers and Joanne Clifton as Millie Dillmount suffer from being completely incomprehensible for most of the show. Mrs Meers veres so far into stereotype that any comedy moments are lost and any hope of a dark side are washed away in what sounds like idiotic cod-oriental babbling. Likewise Clifton’s Dillmount, has the dial permanently on overdrive for the whole show. Dialogue is obliterated, light and shade erased, leaving behind a frenetic and crazed girl with whom there can be no association or sympathy. Most of the rest of the cast seem lost on the huge empty (more cast are needed) space that this show plays on. It’s sparse and for the most part terribly monotonous. You can see the ensemble trying to inject something into the mix but there’s just nothing that can bypass the horrid direction. To try to increase numbers it becomes obvious that male cast and sent on in dresses and it really just doesn’t work.
There are a few moments that manage to totally save this trainwreck. Sam Barrett as Jimmy Smith manages to inject some light and boyish charm in to the proceedings, Graham MacDuff as Trevor Graydon manages to get us chuckling late in the second half, Jenny Fitzpatrick is a jazzy Muzzy Van Hossmere and Katherine Glover is a totally sappy Dorothy Brown which is just as it should be. Still it’s not enough to save the show.
Morgan Large has designed an amazing set themed around New York’s Chrysler Building that gives this production a wonderful playground to bring the Roaring Twenties to life, but there doesn’t seem to be a cohesion creatively that allows the cast to let it rip so to speak. Rather than roar, the show whimpers along.
Rob Wicks spritely band of 7 sound like many more and certainly try to give the evening some flair but this seems to be a doomed affair.
I always make a point of listening to the audience during and after and it was clear this was not a show they were going to recommend. The curtain call applause was restrained to say the least.
Thoroughly Modern Millie needs a thorough revamping by someone more au fait with the style of the period. Show creatives also need to rexamine the dubious state of the ending. Most good musicals thrive on a dark subplot but you don’t hand one of the innocent leading ladies to a yet to be convicted felon at the end of the show.
This is not the Millie I know and love!