Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Thoroughly Joyous Musical


Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama- Thoroughly Modern Millie , Sherman Theatre Cardiff , February 20, 2009
At RWCMD by Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama- Thoroughly Modern Millie The 1967 film of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” was a bit of a damp squib. Its 2002 reincarnation as a musical by contrast has been a consistent and popular success. With not much more than a featherweight plot, slightly mad in parts, it has a stream of bouncy melodies and gives a creative team opportunity to let rip with a world of bobbed hair and sparkly dresses, speak-easies and lavish Manhattan parties. It is an opportunity seized joyfully by director Phillip Breen and his collaborators, among many, musical director John O'Hara, choreographer Frances Newman, and set designer Caroline Melia.

With a cast of twenty-four a snappy start opens in a fast-moving Manhattan. Clare Dunne's wide-eyed Millie, fresh from Salina, Kansas is promptly robbed of her bags and even a shoe. Mairi Phillips' Mrs Meers makes for a wonderfully over-the-top villain, a stage hack turned ludicrous Chinese. She is proprietress of the “Hotel Priscirra”, welcoming in single girls like “Groria” and “Rucille.” Her partners-in-crime are Chinese brothers Ching Ho and Bun Foo, their laundry baskets ever ready for despatching girls off to the wicked Orient. As played by Yao Yuan and Wu Zekun these kidnappers are marked more by charm than threat. When their English breaks down, as it mainly does, their dialogue is spelled out via a series of silent movie dialogue cards.

The production bubbles with pieces of directorial wit; maybe they are borrowings from the US production, but it does not matter. A hotel lift that will only rise with movement is an excuse for tap-dancing. In a “juice joint”- this is 1922 and the days of prohibition- drinks are served by a blonde mermaid from a bath full of hooch. When Millie loses her romantic target, Tom Cullen's comically formal Mr Graydon , to her new best friend, Elin Phillips' Miss Dorothy, she first slips a rose between his teeth, then climbs on her desk to hold out a rotating mirrored disco bill.

In “the Speed Test” the typing pool- or “stenogs”- sit at self-propelling desks that move in a choreography of their own. The dancing is good throughout but tap-dancing honours go to Abigail Parmenter's Miss Flannery, the dragon of the typing pool. The singing is confident but some of the numbers require big treatment from young voices. “Only in New York” gets from Rebecca Millett's Muzzy van Hossmere everything it needs. Similarly, in Act Two's “Gimme, Gimme”, Clare Dunne shows she not only has big eyes that can act all on their own but a voice on the same scale.

Rhys Jennings gets to briefly play a suave George Gershwin. The programme, a clever mock-up of a New York Times, makes no menion of the writers. So a word for composer Jeanine Tesori, lyricist Dick Scanlan and co-writer Richard Morris; without them everyone would be singing the number that Gershwin gave to his Porgy"I Got Plenty o' Nuttin'".

On a clammy day in mid-February “Thoroughly Modern Millie” gave me a great night out.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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