★★★ | Thoroughly Modern Millie – Leeds Grand Theatre and National Tour
Set in the prohibition era in 1920’s New York, Millie Dillmount arrives from Kansas determined to snag herself a rich husband, but ends up broke after being robbed, and finds her way to the Hotel Priscilla, a run-down establishment owned by Mrs Meers. Millie tries desperately to seduce her rich boss, whilst all the time falling for penniless Jimmy Smith. But when it comes to it, will Millie choose wealth over love, and will she ever work out why the girls in the hotel keep mysteriously disappearing?Photo Credit – Darren Bell
Thoroughly Modern Millie is a traditional, old-school musical in a similar style to those written by Irving Berlin and Cole Porter. Using catchy songs, a will they/won’t they love story and gentile comedy, the show bounces along in a rather enjoyable manner and maintains all of the elements one would expect from such a production. The rather straightforward plot is interspersed with a number of pleasing ensemble dance breaks and littered with toe-tapping songs which progress the narrative. Throw into the mix a rather silly subplot involving disappearing hotel guests and an ending that could only happen in a musical and you have a fun show overall.
Joanne Clifton (Strictly Come Dancing) throws her all into the title role and surpasses expectations as Millie. The dancing, as you would expect, was spot on, but her voice was an unexpected treat, with only a little overacting letting her down at times. Sam Barrett proved to be quite a charming leading man as Jimmy Smith and the ensemble proved their worth in the dance routines, in particular, Damian Buhagiar who stood out from the crowd with his committed and well-performed dancing.
Where the show faltered was with an uncomfortably out of date portrayal Mrs Meers, the white slave trader (yes, that’s right!) as a pantomime style Chinese woman, complete with chopsticks in her hair and rather poor Pidgin English which jostles harshly against such an otherwise whimsical plot. The set was slightly uninspired, despite its art deco/Chrysler building influence; and a rather long penultimate scene in which Graham MacDuff’s portrayal of a drunken Mr Graydon and some fake corpsing certainly outstayed their welcome. The show could have also done with a reprise of one of the songs performed by the full cast to round off the evening as the curtain fell.
Overall, the show is light, bubbly, breezy and undemanding and a generally solid production of a little performed, if slightly dated, musical. Clifton shines in the singing and dancing stakes and the show is ultimately a feel-good, if rather throwaway, piece of theatre.
Thoroughly Modern Millie is currently at Leeds Grand Theatre (www.leedsgrandtheatre.com) until 22nd April 2017, before continuing on its national tour until the 15th July 2017. Full details can be found at the show’s webpage at http://modernmillie.co.uk/