Review: Thoroughly Modern Millie

Stage

Thoroughly Modern Millie is as thoroughly delightful as ever. Now on tour, and having just graced Oxford’s New Theatre with a whole lot of jazz and sequins, it appears the classic Broadway show is still on top form.

It is hardly surprising that this musical won six Tony awards, including best musical, as it is one of the most uplifting and dazzling performances on stage. It takes you back to the roaring 20’s, amidst the glamour of New York. Millie, played by Coronation Street’s Hayley Tamaddon, is a small town girl trying to make it big in the city. As it’s a story we’ve all heard before, one would presume that this same old routine might even fall flat on the audience. Yet Millie manages to deliver the narrative recipe we all know (and secretly love) but completely revamped to be able to dazzle and shock on stage.

Most musicals of this trope don’t usually include the white slave trade, overnight prison stays and Japanese duets. It offers something comfortingly familiar yet different all the while. And what’s more, the cast is stunning. Hayley as Millie is endearingly clumsy and larger than life, a far cry from Julie Andrews’ film version but all the more refreshing for it. Lisa Bridge as Millie’s best friend Miss Dorothy Brown is dazzling on stage and performs both gracefully and comically all at the same time, a skill difficult to master. The stand-out cast member however, must be Michael Colbourne as Jimmy Smith who remained entrancing from his very first appearance at the beginning all the way to ‘I’m Falling in Love With Someone’ and the finale. In a play where dance and tap are at the heart of the joy of this piece, Colbourne is the only actor who truly delivers. He is convincing and refreshing and one might even believe he came straight out of the 20’s showbiz scene.

Hayley as Millie is endearingly clumsy and larger than life, a far cry from Julie Andrews’ film version but all the more refreshing for it

One must also mention the incredible singing talents of Hayley Tamaddon and Mr Trevor Graydon on stage, whose performance of ‘The Speed Test’ is scintillating and impressive. In fact, most of the musical numbers deserve a mention with songs such as ‘Gimme Gimme’ and ‘Forget About the Boy’, all relatable and joyful songs that will stay with you way after the performance ends.

What is disappointing however is how empty the theatre was on opening night. For such a comedic musical that relies very much on audience reaction, the empty theatre often gave the impression that the performance was falling flat. The crowd was limited and unenthusiastic. For such a fantastic show, why was there such a poor turnout? One should not underestimate the effect an audience has on its performers- theatre is very much a two way street. You could tell instantly that throughout the first half the performers were disheartened and delivery was often slightly lacklustre.

For such a comedic musical that relies very much on audience reaction, the empty theatre often gave the impression that the performance was falling flat.

However, kudos must be given to the performers who tried to resurrect the performance in the second half. The songs got livelier, the dances became charged with energy, and the cast compensated for the lack of audience enthusiasm. If only this energy had been maintained the entire way through the musical, then it would have been truly spectacular.