It’s 50 years since the effervescent Julie Andrews bobbed her hair and won world-wide acclaim as the gold-digger heroine of Richard Morris’ Roaring ’20s screen musical, Thoroughly Modern Millie.
The stage version is just 16 years old yet, rather than being thoroughly modern, this comedy musical now appears very dated. Its jingoistic and very un-PC plot may have been acceptable, and thought comical, when written in the racy 1960s, but, in today’s climate, the jokes fall terribly flat and one wonders why anyone would think it’s worth reviving.
A new touring production opened last night at Milton Keynes Theatre starring Strictly Come Dancing’s Joanne Clifton as the Kansas hick trying her luck in 1922 Prohibition-era Noo York, and Michelle Collins, who was obviously told the show was a panto, playing the villain, white slave-trader Mrs Meers.
Was I the only one who found the largely unfunny plot shockingly offensive for today’s theatre? I could get into (but will mention it only in passing) the yellowface debate by wondering why a white actor from Malta was cast as Ching Ho, a Chinese skivvy.
Or why modern audiences would find a misogynistic story about women being kidnapped for prostitution in any way amusing.
Or why we’re being asked to empathise with a young girl who titillates and teases in the workplace in order to land her boss? Sure, flirting in the office with a “hands-on” boss, probably went on in the 1920s, but is it funny in 2017?
This is a very workmanlike production. The set looked cheap, the dancing is okay but nothing special (and there were a couple of slips during last night’s show) and the singing and performances are fine, but not exceptional.
I came away thinking that here was a show that would appeal to diehard fans of musicals but why bother seeing it when there are so many other, better productions on the market?
Michelle Collins hammed it up, gurning throughout and strangling a faux Chinese accent as a failed actress turned trader of women. I couldn’t understand most of what she said – but then accents were a problem for the whole cast.
Joanne Clifton was attempting a stage-school Bronx accent, mostly through gritted teeth, even though she’d only just arrived from the plains of Kansas. The other female cast members squawked their lines making them extremely difficult to comprehend.
The musical numbers – other than the signature tune – were not particularly memorable. Jenny Fitzpatrick briefly lifts the show with a grandstanding performance of Only In New York but the rest were standard musical fare. No, tell a lie, how could I forget Al Jolson’s Mammy sung in Chinese?
Graham MacDuff as Millie’s target, wealthy insurance company boss, Trevor Graydon, proved an excellent, scene stealing drunk, a performance that, at least, raised a few laughs – even among the cast (Sam Barrett bringing the show to a halt by corpsing.)
This may have been an award-winner in its time but who thought it would be a good idea to bring it back?
At Milton Keynes Theatre until tomorrow night then touring.
White slavery, jazz hands and Black Bottoms. Joanne Clifton and Michelle Collins star in a workmanlike revival of Thoroughly Modern Millie.