Theatre Review: Thoroughly Modern Millie

3rd March 2017

Thoroughly Modern Millie

by Lindsay Whitwell

“Terrif! Ooh, delish!”

So says Millie Dillmount, the thoroughly modern namesake of the play, and I’m sure the full house audience at York’s Grand Opera House would no doubt be in agreement.

Picture the scene" It’s New York 1922 - our hero, a shaggy-haired country girl, opens the show lamenting her journey to the big city and the family she left behind, with a return ticket to Salina, Kansas stored safely in her dowdy pocket. With the drop of a jazz beat, the ticket is torn up, her hair is bobbed and her wardrobe is suitably ‘flapper’d’ while Millie proudly proclaims “Not for the Life of Me”.

We are in for a ride!

The musical is set in Millie’s Office, her hectic social life and her new home at Mrs Meers’ ‘Hotel Prescilla’. Our unwitting heroine has stepped into the midst of a white slave ring, lead by the proprietor, aided by Bun Foo and Ching Ho; Chinese brothers desperate to bring their mother to New York from Hong Kong.

The colourful characters Millie meets on her adventure are easily likeable and there are some stella performances; Jenny Fitzpatrick is breath-taking as Muzzy Van Hossmere; world famous jazz singer with a secret, newly returned from her World Tour. It’s difficult to imagine anybody embodying Mrs Meers with such a perfect balance of menace and humour as Lucas Rush does, although he has only joined the tour here in York, taking over from Eastenders regular Michelle Collins. The show is stolen, however, in the second act by Graham MacDuff as Trevor Graydon; pompous boss, turned love-sick, husband-in-waiting. A role he embodies with energy and confidence but never over-played.

This six time Tony-Winning show lives up to its promise: the story is enjoyable in all its silliness and moves at a pace. The songs are fun and instantly memorable, but it is the frenetic dance routines that are the real stars of the night. As a familiar face of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ it is easy to see that Joanne Clifton is comfortable throwing herself into 2 hours 20 minutes of near constant tap, flap and Charleston. I can think of few Olympic sports that require as much energy; to accompany it with feverish lyrics and perfectly pitched characterisation, seems almost like showing off!

While the story of a country girl moving to the big city to follow her dream is one we see retold often, I don’t remember a character ever bringing so much zeal to the protagonist as our adorable Millie. As a feminist, it’s difficult to align myself with the idea of marrying for money; recruiting through the workplace, but then it’s also difficult to imagine the narrative is set almost a century ago, when hemlines rose for the first time and women had just entered the workplace. This premise is central to advancing the plot, it becomes increasingly obvious that this is not the root of Millie’s Modernity. Rather her ambition, appetite for success and desire to be lead by the head and not the heart is what gives her life. The celebration of friendship between the women is to also be applauded; they root for each other and come to each other’s rescue when needed, the very mantle of modern feminism.

Thoroughly Modern Millie continues around the UK throughout March. Find venues and book tickets below:

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