What’s the purpose of theatre? To provoke, amuse, imagine, educate, question, entertain? Well, musical theatre merely entertains – and Thoroughly Modern Millie, touring at the Devonshire Park this week, fits the bill perfectly.
It happens in musicals. Small-time girl arrives in big city – in this case, Millie Dillmount from Kansas to NYC, but Millie’s plan is not to find romance or stardom, but to marry the richest man she can find. The flaw in the logic is that Millie is a bit too cute and wide-eyed to be such a hard-nosed schemer, but never mind.
The music is a nice blend of bouncy upbeat numbers and brazen but entertaining pastiche. There are big-ballad snatches. The flappers flap to dance numbers uncannily echoing The Boy Friend, and a breezy live band chips in with its own Nuttycracker Suite and an Entr’Acte that nods to the William Tell Overture.
But it’s all fair game in a show which never takes itself too seriously. It has worn well and its 1920s setting feels authentic.
Racky Plews, the director plays up the caricatures and discards the social comment. Even the vein of sexism threaded through the story feels amusing daft rather than offensive.
Julie Andrews took the title role in the 1967 movie, but Hayley Tamaddon, on this tour, does not deserve to be playing in anyone’s shadow. In a sparkling, high-octane performance, Ms Tamaddon makes the role her own. She sings angelically, flirts deliciously and moves with the poise of a natural dancer.
And speaking of dance: the choreography, from both principals and ensemble, is just outstanding.
Tap numbers are delivered breathlessly, and the stenographers’ ballet on office-desk castors is priceless. Huge credit to the company’s resident choreographer Laura Ellis. Lisa Bridge’s diva Dorothy is a fabulous foil for Millie, with thrilling vocals.
There is a host of other fine performances, mostly in larger-than-life roles. Lisa Bridge’s diva Dorothy is a fabulous foil for Millie, with thrilling vocals. As love-interest Jimmy, Michael Colbourne eases perfectly from hapless to suavely heroic, and Richard Meek is an amusing wealthy boss and a helplessly funny inebriate. Their Act Two quartet I Turned the Corner is indeed the show’s musical high point.
Lucas Rush cross-dresses flagrantly as Mrs Meers, a thoroughly evil Miss Hannigan with Mafia connections. His boarding-house is a cover for an ugly operation kidnapping penniless actresses for a Hong Kong vice ring. The sub-plot is funny and hilariously played, including surtitles for the Chinese dialogue, but it sits uneasily with the new awareness of women performers’ rights. No serious offence: the show is utterly free of malice, and is simpl
Given the slight plot, the first half is one, possibly two numbers too long, turning what should be a frothy bowl-along show into a slightly uphill struggle towards the interval. But Act Two picks up the pace again and the denouement – if you have not seen the movie – is a daft but joyous surprise. Light as a lemon meringue, and carefree as a bike with no brakes, this is easily a four-star production, and it frequently touches the fifth.