Thoroughly Modern Millie, Grand Theatre, Leeds

Review: John Burland

MOST people will remember Thoroughly Modern Millie from the 1967 Academy-award winning film starring Julie Andrews. And this last week we saw another excellent performance to match that of Julie’s in the form of Joanne Clifton in the title role at the Grand theatre in Leeds. The winner of six Tony Awards including best musical, the show took the audience back to the height of the Jazz Age in New York City, where “moderns” including a flapper named Millie Dilmount were bobbing their hair, raising their hemlines, entering the world of work and rewriting the rules of love.

In this musical spoof of the roaring '20s, feisty young flapper Millie plans to find a job and wants to marry a wealthy employer. Though fond of penniless paper-clip salesman Jimmy, she's determined to marry well-heeled company executive Trevor Graydon, who loves Millie's roommate Dorothy Brown. As all four try to find love, evil landlady Mrs. Meers schemes to sell the orphaned Dorothy into white slavery.

The show featured explosive tap numbers both in Mr Graydon’s office with good use of desks and chairs as props and also in the Hotel Priscilla’s lift. There was also some great singing and fabulous choreography throughout. Joanne Clifton, winner on last year’s Strictly Come Dancing TV series, excels in the role of Millie and is not only a great dancer but also a very talented singer. She is superbly supported by Lucas Rush as the evil Mrs Meers, the proprietor of the Hotel Priscilla. This is an extremely funny role and Lucas played this to a tee which had the audience in fits of laughter.

When the film came out in 1967 Julie Andrews and the director George Roy Hill plus a number of the critics mentioned that it was too long at over 2½ hours and the critics said, “Less would be more”. Likewise in this stage production, I have to agree with them as it ran (with an intermission) at around 170 minutes, with the first half of the show being 1½ hours in length. I am sure that some trimming of scenes would not distract from the production as a whole and many people at the interval mentioned that it had been a very long first half. Also there were some technical issues with the sound on the night I attended with several of the actors having too much treble to their voices which was particularly prominent in their songs.

Having said that there were some good performances, not only from Joanne Clifton and Lucas Rush as I have mentioned above, but also from Sam Barrett as Jimmy, Katherine Glover as Dorothy and Graham MacDuff as Trevor Graydon. From a humour point of view I must also mention Damian Buhagiar and Andy Yau as the brothers Ching Ho and Bun Foo who were perfect foils for Lucas during their kidnapping antics in the hotel.

A good show but sadly spoilt somewhat for me by both the length of the production and the technical issues.