Being based on a 1967 film set in the 1920s may not seem all that modern, but it’s surprising how the musical Thoroughly Modern Millie (which premiered on Broadway in 2002) has remained relevant. A comic pastiche of classic Broadway musicals, its narrative follows the young Millie Dillmount as she moves to the Big Apple and plans to marry for money rather than love. The feminist agenda – an independent woman taking control of her destiny – is as ripe in 2015 as it ever has been.
It’s a shame, then, that this production feels half-baked. For such a whacky show, the cast lack energy as they perform on a mostly empty Art Deco stage. Francesca Lara Gordon’s Millie doesn’t quite have the zany yet ditzy attitude to carry the plot; Ben Stacey’s Jimmy lacks masculine charm and presence; whilst Chipo Kureya’s Muzzy Van Hosmere isn’t the scene stealing diva you might expect. By contrast, Steph Parry’s Mrs Meers, with a dodgy (intentionally) Chinese accent that borders on racist, feels over-egged – an outdated villainous character from the show’s past that undermines its modernist themes.
Musically, the show follows this characterisation. The capable band is minimal, playing a reduced orchestration that lacks oomph; likewise, there are some sweetly sung vocal performances (from Gordon especially), but it all feels too underpowered, too nice, too polite. The showstopping numbers don’t have the razzmatazz or emotional depth to really wow.
That’s not to say the cast lack talent – far from it. They just need to be pushed harder by director Matthew Iliffe, to heighten the characterisation, to boost the vocals, to raise their game that bit further. This is a young cast who don’t quite fit their assigned parts, though on the periphery Christina Meehan shows great comedy in a variety of roles, both Charlie Johnson and Thomas Inge are supremely skilled dancers, and Sarah-Marie Maxwell has the characterisation of the giggly, klutzy Miss Dorothy Brown on point.
It’s in the ensemble numbers that the show eventually comes alive, though these are too few and far between and sometimes feel too big for the limited space of the Landor Theatre. Sam Spencer Lane’s Charleston-inspired choreography is fast-paced and lively, performed with energy and sharpness by the cast, whilst the tap numbers are skilfully danced. These moments prove that Thoroughly Modern Millie is thoroughly entertaining, though it could be so much more.
Watch: Thoroughly Modern Millie runs at the Landor Theatre until 13th September.
Photos: Richard Davenport