It’s 1922, and young Millie Dillmount arrives in New York from a small town in Kansas, ready to take control of her destiny and make her fortune by marrying well. After all, the modern marriage is a business affair. Skirts get shorter, heels get higher and hair is bobbed flapper style, making Millie the most up to date “modern” the Big Apple has to offer. However, Millie’s plans to marry her boss and get rich quick are thrown awry by a surprise love affair and, rather implausibly, the discovery of a secret white slavery ring.
Beloved by generations of musical-goers, Thoroughly Modern Millie offers a soundtrack full of big band numbers, featuring complex melodies and chopped tempos. Whilst musically interesting, many of the songs are difficult to listen to; the lack of repetition and pattern means there are few catchy hooks to get the audience singing along. However, iconic numbers such as “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “Forget About The Boy” are guaranteed crowdpleasers.
Strictly Come Dancing star Joanne Clifton is a triumph in the title role. There is certainly nothing subtle about her performance; bold, brash and confident, Clifton’s Millie is a force to be reckoned with. Faced with some highly challenging musical numbers, Clifton’s vocal performance is strongest in her mid-range – an impressive belt with a characteristic New York twang – but her voice can be drowned at the upper and lower ends of the scale. As expected, her dance performance is absolutely outstanding, with exceedingly quick, dynamic footwork. Director and choreographer Racky Plews takes full advantage of Clifton’s Latin skills, with a cameo appearance from the Argentine tango.
Sam Barrett gives a relaxed, easy-going performance as love interest Jimmy Smith, displaying some excellent dance skills during the American Smooth section in “I Turned the Corner”. Katherine Glover and Graham McDuff are hilarious as Miss Dorothy Brown and Mr Trevor Grayden during the operatic duet “I’m Falling in Love With Someone”. Jenny Fitzpatrick gives the vocal performance of the night as Muzzy Van Hossmere, effortlessly filling the auditorium with her rich, velvety voice.
There are certain aspects to the plot of Thoroughly Modern Millie which feel dated and make uncomfortable viewing for modern audiences – especially Millie’s idea that success is measured by marriage. Similarly, the role of Mrs Meers (played by Michelle Collins with a stereotypical Chinese accent) smacks of racial prejudice and barely falls short of “yellow-facing”.
Thoroughly Modern Millie features inventive choreography (look out for the stunning tap number in “Forget About the Boy”, brilliantly timed slapstick comedy and stunning 1920s costumes. However, this cast of outstanding dancers occasionally struggle with the demanding vocal numbers. Also, it is possible that the popularity of a musical featuring outdated attitudes to gender and race could be short-lived in the diverse culture of the twenty-first century. That being said, Thoroughly Modern Millie is a great night out that will have your toes tapping. In the words of Millie Dillmount herself, “love has everything to do with it!”
Thoroughly Modern Millie runs at the New Alexandra Theatre until Saturday 18 February, and tickets can be found here.