Review - Thoroughly Modern Millie at Milton Keynes Theatre

Joanna Clifton in Thoroughly Modern Millie

Joanna Clifton in Thoroughly Modern Millie

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Transported back in time to New York's Roaring 20s where prohibition, flapper dresses, bob haircuts and jazz music are the norm, it can only mean one thing… the musical stage version of Thoroughly Modern Millie has arrived at Milton Keynes Theatre for a far-too-short run.

Although the storyline itself started life as an unsuccessful 1950s British offering called Chrysanthemum, it was the 1967 American screen adaptation of Thoroughly Modern Millie that really brought the story of Kansas country girl Millie Dillmount's arrival in the Big Apple to life.

Michelle Collins also appears in Thoroughly Modern Millie

Michelle Collins also appears in Thoroughly Modern Millie

In fact it was Richard Morris' Academy Award-winning film of the same name, along with Elmer Bernstein's musical score, which really hit the headlines. Featuring the late Mary Tyler Moore – who sadly passed away aged 80 this week – and Carol Channing as the important roles of Miss Dorothy Brown and Muzzy van Hossmere respectively, it was the wonderful Julie Andrews who stole the celluloid plaudits as the show's star.

British-born Julie's career had really taken off two years earlier when she played Marie in The Sound of Music having already been a box office smash as Mary Poppins some 12 months earlier.

For the new touring stage production of Thoroughly Modern Millie – which has already picked up six Tony Awards including Best Musical – it's 2016 Strictly Come Dancing winner and World Ballroom Showdance Champion Joanne Clifton who takes on the title role of Millie Dillmount.

Her recent television glitter ball success with her BBC sports reporter partner Ore Oduba has catapulted this stunning professional dancer from Grimsby into the public's hearts although the multi-talented Joanne is no stranger to musical theatre as she played Marilyn Monroe in Norma Jeane the Musical and has also had key roles in two dance spectaculars, Face the Music and Burn the Floor.

Thoroughly Modern Millie opens with the rather gullible youngster arriving in New York with a one-way ticket (she actually tears up her return!) to seek the bright lights, excitement… and a wealthy husband!

But within minutes of her arrival she is robbed and loses her purse and it's only when she deliberately trips over an annoyed Jimmy Smith (Sam Barrett) that he takes pity on her and writes a boarding house address on her wrist. However the address is a hotel for young single aspiring actresses and orphans run by oriental-lookalike madame Mrs Meers played by former EastEnders bad girl Michelle Collins.

Unbeknown to Millie, Mrs Meers operates a white slave business and several of the hotel's 'residents' have already mysteriously disappeared on the day of their arrival.

But Millie manages to get herself a job as a stenographer at the Sincere Trust Insurance Company where sets her sights on her stuffy boss Mr Trevor Graydon played by the comical Graham MacDuff who delivers several great one-liners.

With her hair in a fashionable bob and her hemline raised several inches above the knee, it's just the start of a thoroughly enjoyable show as Joanne brings the role of Millie to life. Her voice – while not quite on a par with Julie Andrews in her heyday – is far better than I ever expected and her overall performance, in the words of controversial Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood, would surely be… FAB-U-LOUS!

I loved the office tap dance routine as the girls rattled away on their typewriters, their desks sliding in unison around the stage just like one of Strickty's group dance routines.

Unfortunately apart from the title song (Thoroughly Modern Millie), I couldn't recall another single tune once I left the theatre. But that's not to say that Jeanine Tesori's completely new musical score was poor for it fitted the storyline well as did Dick Scanlan's lyrics which would certainly have taken a huge amount of concentration to learn.

I loved the sequence when Millie had to repeat a letter which had been rapidly dictated by Trevor Graydon. It was all very clever as was the addition of the 'Ah! Sweet Mystery Of Life' sequence between Mr Graydon and Miss Brown!

The soprano voice of Katherine Glover, playing the part of a dreamy Miss Dorothy Brown, was really superb as was Sam Barrett's as Jimmy Smith, while Jenny Fitzpatrick's in the role of rich billionaire widow Muzzy Van Hossmere had real depth and quality.

There were some stand-out moments as Jimmy sang 'What Do I Need With Love', Millie performing 'Jimmy' and 'Gimme, Gimme', while the pair also duetted in 'I Turned the Corner' which received hugh applause.

Unfortunately thanks to a strange screechy vocal, most of Michelle Collins' comic lines were lost in her stereotypical Chinese accent while playing the evil Chinese landlady Mrs Meers. It also meant that half the audience in the Dress Circle were left somewhat puzzled as to what she had a actually uttered.

However along with her two oriental accomplices Ching Ho (Damian Buhagiar) and Bun Foo (Andy Yau), there was much merriment as subtitles were flashed up on a far-too-small television screen, the trio having giving us a Chinese rendition of Al Jolson's 'Mammy'!

That said, Thoroughly Modern Millie is a production which makes the most of a dated storyline which is lifted by excellent dance routines by the whole Ensemble and some great characterisations – it all goes to ensure a thoroughly entertaining evening.

The set, the glittering costumes and wonderful choreography are all first class as is the orchestra and if the show was being judged by those Strictly Come Dancing judges it would probably receive straight nines!

Thoroughly Modern Millie has just tonight (Friday) and tomorrow's 2.30pm matinee and the 7.30pm evening. For tickets call the box office on 0844 871 7652 or visit www.atgtickets.co.uk/miltonkeynes.