Thoroughly Modern Millie – Landor Theatre

Francesca-Lara-Gordon-Ben-Stacey-and-Samuel-Harris-courtesy-Richard-Davenport-1Returning to London twelve years after it’s triumphant West End debut, the 2002 Tony Award winning musical “Thoroughly Modern Millie” literally bursts its way into the intimate space of the Landor with style and a whole heap of toe-tapping numbers.

The musical (based on the 1967 film of the same name, starring Julie Andrews) is in part written by 2015 Tony Award winning “Fun Home” composer/chameleon Jeanine Tesori with book and new lyrics by Richard Morris (who wrote the movie’s screenplay) and Dick Scanlan, interpolating additional songs from the film. Tesori’s new songs fit the 1920’s Charleston and flapper flavours perfectly to set the carefree and sheer joy of post-WWI New York.

The true star of this production is choreographer Sam Spencer Lane (with associate Freddie Huddleston). Lane’s energetic and precise choreography are clearly the standout point of this “Millie” and should be commended. Every performer is put through their paces, whether it be tap or jazz and all come up trumps. Lane’s input thankfully also raises the bar from the rather lacklustre direction of Matthew Iliffe, whose lack of experience is evident in some very confusing scenic choices and the unfortunate chaotic decision to multi-role too few people with very little difference between who and what character they are portraying. Another peculiarity was discovering the “pastiche” of the musical in the final quarter of the piece, rather than the entire way through. Up to that point, the comedy frequently appeared as over-the-top pantomime acting.

Chris Guard’s musical direction is excellent with his tiny band of five, however, occasionally the cast were overpowered by their energy. The set and costumes by Andrew Riley were classy as one would expect in the 1920’s, and his mirrored Chrysler-building inspired walls were very effective. The use of a doorframe as the hotel lift was an exceptionally clever touch.

This cast is comprised of some very recent graduates of the local Arts Colleges which unfortunately makes the production look very much like a showcase and frequently, the inexperience of the performers shone through because of this. Francesca Lara Gordon and Ben Stacey were charming as Millie and Jimmy Smith respectively, though were frequently inaudible at times as were most of the remainder of the cast, particularly those with lines that were not able to land due to the speed at which they were delivered.

Steph Parry as Mrs Meers, with Alex Codd and Anthony Starr as her two Chinese laundry boys, was a strangely racist caricature but once the “pastiche-ball” dropped, it became clear they were reminiscent of the Gilbert and Sullivan “ethnic” characters and were sufficiently hilarious. Snaps too to Christina Meehan lit up the stage every time she appeared, particularly as the no-nonsense Miss Peg Flannery.
If you like your musicals light and frothy, with some fabulous tight choreography, get on down to the Landor.

Reviewed by Richard Kindermann
Photo: Richard Davenport

Thoroughly Modern Millie is playing at the Landor Theatre until 13 September 2015. Click here for tickets