Review of Thoroughly Modern Millie – Beeston Musical Theatre Group – Duchess Theatre – October 23rd 2018.
By David Allen of Erewash Sound.
Set in New York City in 1922, Thoroughly Modern Millie tells the story of young Millie Dillmount from Kansas, who comes to New York in search of a new life for herself. Her grand plan is to find a job as a secretary for a wealthy man and then marry him. However, her plan goes completely awry and she becomes involved with the white slave trade. These themes seem might seem like a strange mix, but the show is thoroughly aware of its own silliness, which makes it absurdity light-hearted and great fun. It is certainly very tongue-in-cheek with its comedy and commentary of the 1920s Jazz Era, and the music celebrates the rhythm and style of the time.
There are some great songs in the show including “Not for the Life of Me” “Thoroughly Modern Millie” Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life/Falling in Love with Someone” “Forget About the Boy,” Only in New York” and “Gimme Gimme” too name but a few.
The Director, Beth Yearsley and her production team have certainly gathered together a very talented and hardworking cast for this fast moving show. All are very professional, well-rehearsed and contribute to making this an excellent production. A great deal of thought obviously went into the logistics of staging a show with several scene changes, big song and dance numbers and some unusual dialogue. All of these challenges have been met and surpassed and the result is a hugely entertaining extravaganza that captures the fun and feeling of the time and lifts the spirits of the audience.
Leading the company is the enormously talented Lucy Castle in the role of Millie. From her first entry onto the stage it was obvious that we were going to be treated to a great all round performance. She certainly has the “triple threat” – acting, singing and dancing to a very high standard. She has some challenging songs, but sings them all beautifully, captivating the audience. Her first song, “Not for the Life of Me” is a brilliant starter for her characterisation of the determined Millie, leading to her tearing up her return ticket home, vowing to find her own way. For the rest of the show she certainly does: Lucy makes this huge role her own in a very entertaining way.
The leading man in this show is Jimmy Smith, played by the ever popular Rob Charles, who I have seen in many Beeston shows. Rob is well suited to this part, conveying confidence with a hint of arrogance and developing that into the warmer and more rounded character that ends the show. His solo “What do I need with love?”, is sung with feeling. He is the perfect foil for Millie who at first treats him with disdain and then … well come and see what happens at the end.
Cat Tuckey plays the sweet but determined Miss Dorothy Brown, a new found friend of Millie, with much charm. She has a great voice and shows that off perfectly in the duet “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life/ Falling in love with Someone sung with Chris Bryan as Trevor Graydon. He has a super voice too and gives a lovely humorous characterisation as the driven boss who is impervious to female charms, until a sudden change occurs, which Chris captures perfectly. His challenging solo, “The Speed Test,” has the style of a Gilbert and Sullivan “patter Song.” His rendition (often at great speed) was excellent and very entertaining.
I have seen Sandy Lane in a number of local shows and have always loved her performances, but this one stands out for me. She is excellent as the evil Mrs. Meers, the hotel proprietor who is certainly not the nice Chinese lady she pretends to be and is in fact, a white slave trader. Sandy dominates the stage and is very funny, making the most of her one liners and asides and nailing a mock Chinese accent. Her comedy timing is as ever, perfect.
Sandy is well supported by her two excellent Chinese servants, Ching Ho ( Andy Bulmer) and Bun Foo ( Mariko Jones ), who are an endearing double act, expressing so much through their actions and mannerisms. Also, I admired their delivery of a large amount of Mandarin: they sounded pretty authentic to me!
Muzzy van Hossmere is a great part for a jazz singer and Sascha Cornelius really nails the part. What a great voice and stage presence she has, thoroughly convincingly as the street wise but warm hearted star. Her renditions of both “Only in New York” and “Long as I’m here with you” were fantastic.
Miss Peg Flannery the sombre typing pool manager was well played by Cheryl Mills, expressing the prim and cantankerous nature of the character and her gradual softening.
The supporting cast works very well throughout the show and many have small parts too. Well done to you all as the dancing and singing was splendid. They were:
Rita (Lily Taylor Ward ), Ruth ( Claire Rybicki ), Ethel ( Laura Such ),
Gloria ( Jennifer Chatten ), Alice ( Jodie Cresdee ), Lucille ( Lottie Valks ), Cora (Charlotte Howard )
Pearl Lady (Hollie Smith), Kenneth (Matthew Charlton), Dexter (Rob Holsman), Rodney (John Hand), Daphne (Claire Farrand-Preston), Mathilde (Victoria Appleton), Dorothy Parker (Cheryl Camm).
Ensemble: Garreth Frank, Rachel Maddison, Ruth Maddison, Emma Weir, Cheryl Camm.
I love to see a large group of tap dancers on stage and tonight this company had them. As far as I could see they were perfect.
The Tap Troupe are: Jennifer Chatten, Jane Cottee, Jodie Cresdee, Charlotte Howard, Mina Machin, Laura Smith, Hollie Smith, Lily Taylor Ward, Lottie Valks, Christine Walton.
Incidentally, the dance routines throughout the show often involve the whole cast and are great – exciting, dynamic and fast moving. Maybe that was in part due to the fact there was not one choreographer but 5! They are to be commended for what they achieved with the cast:
Lucy Castle, Jennifer Chatten, Jody Cresdee, Mina Machin and Beth Yearsley.
With dancing and movement in mind I was impressed with Beth Yearsley’s staging as this is a very large cast, perhaps the largest I have seen of late on this stage. She makes sure that it does not look overcrowded and the routines fit in well with the stage and set.
The set, which was built by a number of the cast and technical crew, was a masterpiece in good looking and functional staging. It was easily changed into various new scenes quickly and smoothly. This enabled the show to run with no delays. Add to that the excellent lighting, including spots, (Dave Martin and Matthew Cook) and the very effective projections (Brian Waters) and you have a very professional show. The sound was crisp, clear and well balanced with the orchestra, thanks to Tom Olding.
Being set in the 1920’s there was ample opportunity for some great costumes and the show had them, plus some very authentic looking and well researched props. I would have liked to have seen some more colourful dresses in the ensemble, although the creams and beiges did provide a contrast to that worn by Millie after her transformation into a Modern girl.
Last but certainly not least, the Orchestra conducted by Morris Fisher is great and accompanies the performers well. The standard of the singing was first class which I am sure Morris worked hard with them on.
The show is full of laughs, great dance routines and lively music, with a feel-good story to match. The musical falls into the category of the escapist musical, meant to be a jokey bit of nostalgia about the “Roaring Twenties”, and not an earnest reflection of reality. Beth, her creative team and the cast have created a wonderful show that is thoroughly entertaining and definitely worth coming to see before it ends on Saturday.
Well done BMTG for yet another highly professional production and I look forward to seeing their next two shows which are Urine Town in May 2019 and The Producers in October 2019.T