Thoroughly Modern Millie

Feb 1 2017 | By More

★★★☆☆    Not strictly brilliant

Edinburgh Playhouse: Tue 31 Jan – Sat 4 Feb 2017
Review  by Martin Gray

Pop quiz. Hum a song from Thoroughly Modern Millie, which is at the Playhouse until Saturday. Aha, Sammy Cahn and James Van Heusen’s title number. Very good. And?

… and?

One or two of the songs beyond that catchy theme are rather pleasant in the context of the show, but half an hour later, I can’t recall a single one. But this touring production has a secret weapon… Joanne Clifton, the Strictly Come Dancing star who, after her casting was announced, became the 2016 winner with sportscaster Ore Oduba.

Joanne Clifton as Millie Dillmount. Photo: Darren Bell

Fans of Strictly and spin-off It Takes Two know her to be a hugely talented dancer with a sharp sense of humour and sparky personality. All of that shines through as she plays Millie Dillmount, a small-town gal determined to bag a husband in the big city by being a Modern. It sounds like stunt casting, the parachuting-in of a TV face to sell tickets, but the lovely surprise is that it isn’t. Clifton isn’t solely a dancer, she has a pretty decent voice and fine comic timing.

The less lovely surprise, though, is that Clifton doesn’t really get a chance to show off what she’s known for. Here’s a show set in the Twenties, with a scene in a speakeasy, the perfect excuse for an elaborate Charleston co-starring Sam Barrett’s suitor, Jimmy Smith. And while we get a teeny bit of that Strictly favourite once or twice, and some tango in the speakeasy scene itself, there’s no elaborate showcase for Clifton’s particular genius.

She’s still good value in Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan’s tale of ambition and white slavery, but a couple of spotlights – I’m not asking anyone to rewrite this Tony-winning production – would’ve distracted nicely from a couple of big problems.

First, there’s soap star Michelle Collins as Mrs Meers, whose hotel for young ladies is a front for nefarious activities. Collins has put in some terrific performances over the years, but this isn’t one of them – her dragon lady accent would disgrace your average Abanazer and most of her dialogue in the first act is is impossible to make out.

sadly appropriate

Collins has a solo number, They Don’t Know, which proves a sadly appropriate title. What the heck was she singing? God bless her for trying really hard, but director Racky Plews – if it wasn’t actually her idea – really should have had a word.

Collins is on firmer ground in the second act, when she’s required to do the fake accent rather less, and she gets a good few laughs.

Michelle Collins with Damian Buhagiar and Andy Yau. Photo: Darren Bell

Bad luck means Collins also features in the scenes with an equally infuriating problem – henchmen Ching Ho and Bun Fu (the hardworking Damian Buhagiar and Andy Yau) speak their native Chinese. Which would be fine if the surtitles could actually be seen; a titchy screen above them has the English translation in tiny letters. In shades of beige. My companion didn’t even notice it until I’d pointed it out at the interval.

This is a genuine storytelling problem and the fact that the show has reached Edinburgh without it being fixed is a huge headscratcher.

If you know Thoroughly Modern Millie at all, chances are it’s from the 1967 film, one of the standout scenes of which has Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore make a dodgy elevator work by tap dancing. It’s immensely charming and huge fun. Here, the moment is thrown away, a brief line of script tossed out at the back of the stage, behind an ever-adapting arch which makes flapper-era New York seem like a series of dungeons.

genuinely pleasurable moments

This isn’t a Thoroughly Middling Millie, there are genuinely pleasurable moments. Jimmy and Millie’s love duet I Turned the Corner is affecting, a perfect showcase for Barrett’s warm tenor; Katherine Glover and Catherine Mort are terrific as the naive Miss Dorothy and showgirl turned socialite Muzzy; Forget About the Boy shows us how tight the ensemble is; and surtitles be damned, Mammy in Chinese is a hoot.

And then there’s Graham MacDuff as Trevor, the boss Millie wants to get her claws into. In the first act he impresses with his comic skills and baritone, before carrying out a daring theatrical heist with the funniest drunk acting I’ve ever seen.

Thoroughly Modern Millie is awash with talented players and is very nearly a really good show. A few tweaks and it may get there yet.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with one interval)
Edinburgh Playhouse, 18 – 22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA.
Tuesday 31 January – Saturday 4 February 2017.
Daily: 7.30pm. Matinees Weds & Sat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and booking details:

Tour Website:
Twitter: @ModernMillieUK
Facebook: MillieUKTour

Buy 1967 movie and Original Cast Recording on Amazon. Click on the images below for details.

Thoroughly Modern Millie on tour 2017:
Tue 31 Jan – Sat 4 Feb Edinburgh
0844 871 3014 Book online
Mon 6 – Sat 11 Feb Glasgow
King’s Theatre
0844 871 7648 Book online
Mon 13 – Sat 18 Feb Birmingham
Alexandra Theatre
0844 871 3011 Book online
Mon 20 – Sat 25 Feb Liverpool
Empire Theatre
0844 871 3017 Book online
Mon 27 Feb – Sat 4 March York
Grand Opera House
0844 871 3024 Book online
Mon 6 – Sat 11 March High Wycombe
Swan Theatre
01494 512 000 Book online
Mon 20 – Sat 25 March Southsea
King’s Theatre
023 9282 8282 Book online
Mon 27 March – Sat 1 April Aylesbury
Waterside Theatre
0844 871 7607 Book online
Mon 3 – Sat 8 April Brighton
Theatre Royal
0844 871 7650 Book online
Mon 10 – Sat 15 April Dartford
Orchard Theatre
01322 220000 Book online
Mon 17 – Sat 22 April Leeds
Grand Theatre
0844 848 2700 Book online
Mon 24 – Sat 29 April Llandudno
Venue Cymru
01492 872000 Book online
Mon 8 – Sat 13 May Woking
New Victoria Theatre
0844 871 7645 Book online
Mon 22 – Sat 27 May Manchester
Palace Theatre
0844 871 3019 Book online
Tue 6 – Sat 10 June Bromley
Churchill Theatre
020 3285 6000 Book online
Mon 19 – Sat 24 June Bristol
0844 871 3012 Book online
Mon 10 – Sat 15 July Newcastle
Theatre Royal
08448 11 21 21 Book online


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