Thoroughly Modern Millie

Apr 17 2015 | By More

★★★★☆    Thoroughly musical

Edinburgh Academy: Wed 15 – Sat 18 April 2015

Forth Children’s Theatre have another winner in Thoroughly Modern Millie, which contains enough quality singing and dancing to fill several shows.

Even if it is not the most dramatically taxing production you will ever see, the dance numbers in particular more than compensate.

A scene from Thoroughly Modern Millie. Photo Mark Gorman

A scene from Thoroughly Modern Millie. Photo Mark Gorman

Richard Morris, Dick Scanlan and Jeanine Tesori’s musical has an all too common background for a 21st century offering in that it takes a Hollywood movie (in this case the wilfully silly 1967 George Roy Hill pastiche of 1920s styles) and ups the musical content.

This means there is the odd song from the original, numbers derived from a variety of sources – including a Tchaikovsky-derived dance routine and a patter song lifted from Ruddigore – and original songs of varying distinction.

What results is barely more sensible than the original film, as Kansas ingénue Millie Dillmount moves to New York to prove her credentials as a ‘modern woman’ by getting a job as typist to a rich man and then marrying him. However, she is distracted by a seemingly penniless but attractive young man, various out-of-work showbiz types – and, naturally, a slavery racket.

The problem with such a nonsensical story is that, beyond some well-played comedy, there is little chance for any of the talented cast to show off their acting chops. Fortunately, the musical content more than makes up for this.

considerable power and emotion

Emily Jackson’s Millie is a suitably dominating figure, commanding the stage and providing both the character’s vulnerable, doubting side and the stamina needed for the belted-out numbers. Charlie West is a charming male lead as her apparently shiftless suitor Jimmy, also displaying considerable power and emotion when called upon.

Millie Arrives. Photo: Mark Gorman

Millie arrives in New York. Photo: Mark Gorman

Ronan Rafferty displays considerable versatility and impressive comic timing as Millie’s boss Mr Graydon, while Harmony Rose-Bremner’s strong voice and comic talents are well used as Millie’s friend Dorothy. Caitlyn Vanbeck has a suitably strong voice as society hostess and singer Muzzy Van Hossmere.

Helen Hunter’s phrasing and dramatic sense are particularly in evidence in They Don’t Know, the featured number for disappointed actor-turned-crook Mrs Meers. Alex Gordon and Ben King show talent for comedy in their roles as her Chinese criminal associates as well as being unexpectedly touching.

These henchmen roles have been beefed up considerably from the movie and given a modicum of personality and motivation. There remains a considerable amount of unease about retaining such a stereotypical element in a modern-day musical, not to mention the adoption by Meers of a ‘Chinese’ accent for comedy purposes.

That, however, is a discussion for another day, and what can be said is that all three roles are discharged here with charm and skill. These qualities are in evidence throughout the cast, and there are countless examples of perfectly judged performances in smaller roles. It would be impossible to mention everyone, but Hayley Scott, Esther Scott and Kirsty Allen are tremendous as Millie’s glamorous sidekicks, while Orla Bayne and Leonardo McCorkindale threaten to steal the show with a cameo as a dining couple.

The American accents are sustained superbly throughout, particularly in the singing. On a couple of occasions, however, this seemed to be at the cost of audibility in spoken dialogue, while the lighting did not always seem to be behaving as it might. However, the production is generally more than sound technically, while director Katie Renton keeps the pace consistent.

Where this production really shines is in the dance numbers. Jack Nixon’s choreography is always demanding, and the cast rise to the occasion with some eye-popping routines that are as good as anything you will ever see. The opening number is a complex routine involving the whole, nearly 40-strong cast, and from then on the quality never lets up. Neither do the unflagging band under MD Alex Lyne.

The highlight is the second half’s opener Forget About The Boy, a joyous routine featuring Millie and the stenographers that gives Taylor Doig’s forbidding supervisor Miss Flannery her moment in the tap-dancing sun. The skill and flair in this number would be worth seeing on its own, even if it were not part of a larger whole that is so musically impressive.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with one interval)
Edinburgh Academy: 42 Henderson Row, EH3 5BL
Wednesday 15 – Saturday 18 April 2015
Evenings: 7.30pm; Fri/Sat matinees: 2.30pm
Details and tickets:

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