Like most musicals, its set in the wondrous and roaring 1920’s; where the flapper girls want to flower in the big world. It’s a fantastic story that delves into the seedy underbelly of New York with prohibition bars and the neglected notion of danger that lurks on the murky sidewalks and even right under your nose. The gutsy out of towner Millie dreams of making a life for herself and ventures to the Big Apple in search of something more than the farm life that’s offered in her hometown of Kansas.
As the curtain draws, I liken the start of Thoroughly Modern Millie to Funny Girl; set around the same time, both main characters are charismatic girls from poor backgrounds with dreams of making it big in New York- though the differing definitions of ‘big’ is what ultimately sends their stories on quite different paths.
Millie is a funny, charismatic, and tenacious protagonist played spectacularly by Joanne Clifton. What I loved most about this characters journey was her desire to be the modern woman; modern clothes, modern haircut, modern attitudes to men, other woman, steely determination and work hard, play hard ethos. It is these freedoms today that we take for granted that woman, like Millie had to fight for. Although this isn’t the ultimate focus of the play aside the fact she is this modern girl with modern clothes and hair- it is the undercurrent which, reflectively is very empowering.
The antagonist, Mrs Meers, played by Lucas Rush, was surprising. Although ultimately it was Millie’s story, Lucas and Nick Len (as Ching Ho) and Andy Yau (as Bun Foo) were a captivating trio. I’d liken their encounters as quite pantomime-esque in that it entails funny banter that you look forward to. Although you ultimately don’t want them (most) to win the day, that ultimate good vs. bad struggle is enthralling.
Graham MacDuff, as Trevor Graydon, in the second half was the one who really tickled our funny bones. He has to be the best stage/film/TV drunk ever. Just when you think it couldn’t be any funnier- he managed to take it to a whole other level; even scaling the skyscrapers in the process. It added a humanistic side to the production that really acknowledges the audience and felt more spontaneous than scripted.
The dance numbers is what you can relish most in with this particular musical and with stars like Joanne Clifton (from Strictly) and chorus, it is no wonder this is a main focus and what mainly sets this musical apart from the rest; the clever use of props in its choreography was impressive too. With an underplayed score that is perhaps not as well-known as many of its counterparts, it is a refreshing show that encompasses all the joys theatre offers; humour, adventure, inspiration and charisma.
Thoroughly Modern Millie will be at The Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday