REVIEW: THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE (Sunderland Empire) ★★★★

Winner of six Tony Awards Thoroughly Modern Millie is the delightful comedy based on the 1967 award-winning film.

It’s 1922 and naive ingenue Millie Dillmount (Hayley Tamaddon) quits Kansas for the bright lights of New York City, determined to bag herself a wealthy businessman as a husband. But things don’t go exactly to plan, as she has her money stolen, ends up living in a flophouse run by a white slave trader Mrs Meers and falls for the penniless Jimmy instead of capturing the heart of her boss. We get to see Millie transfer from a country bumpkin into a flapper, with the bobbed hair and trendy clothes, and getting a job as a stenographer and setting her sights on her boss, Mr Trevor Graydon III, played by Richard Meek.

Described as a musical comedy, the production certainly pulls out all of the stops when it comes to the over the top characterisation. Hotel owner Mrs Meers (Lucas Rush) presents himself as an old Chinese woman, despite actually being a male failed actor and wanted criminal. The two sidekicks Ching Ho and Bun Foo (Guy Salim and Patrick Jeremy) pander to his manipulative orders, and their lack of English provides great comedy. The decision to put up subtitles for the rapid Chinese dialogue is a masterstroke.

Needless to say, things don’t go to plan and Millie ends up falling in love with the supposedly flaky, penniless, lady killer Jimmy Smith, played by Michael Colbourne. His portrayal of Jimmy was more than a match for Tamaddon with his singing and dancing.

Lisa Bridger, who plays Millie’s friend Miss Dorothy, and Meek certainly have the best vocals of the whole cast but Tamaddon does a great job as Millie and shows she can sing and act, as well as dance. They are well supported by the rest of the cast. Nicola Blackman gives the vocal performance of the night as Muzzy Van Hossmere, effortlessly filling the auditorium with her rich, velvety voice.

There was lots that I enjoyed about this production, the scenes in the illegal drinking club. The massed ranks of the stenographers in the office, earphone hairstyles and spectacles, coloured in green under the eagle eye of Miss Flannery (Natalie Spriggs) were fun. The big ensemble numbers have bags of pizzazz, and director/choreographer Racky Plews’ clever tap dancing typing pool sequence is a visual treat. The costumes are beautiful and the set whipped us back into the age of the roaring 20’s.

Overall it was a great comedy performance and had all the audience laughing, and at one stage even the cast when Meek was playing the extremely drunk Graydon. It was infectious to see everyone laughing along and taking it in their stride. Epitomising old school musical theatre, Thoroughly Modern Millie is a show that boasts a tremendous score and excellently witty dialogue. Thoroughly Modern Millie is a thoroughly fun show which continues until Saturday 14th in Sunderland and on tour around the UK.

Reviewed by Susan Lindsay

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