Monday, 31 August 2015

Theatre review: Thoroughly Modern Millie at the Landor Theatre



©Richard Davenport

The Landor Theatre in Clapham is a lovely, intimate venue but the productions I've seen there in the past year have been very hit or miss for me. While I didn't enjoy the revival of Damn Yankees, new original musical The Clockmaker's Daughter is one of the best shows I have seen in 2015 so far. Being another revival, Thoroughly Modern Millie could've easily been another miss for me, but I've wanted to see this show ever since I disappeared in a YouTube void of clips from the Broadway production with Sutton Foster and Gavin Creel in the leads, and so I was keen to catch it live on stage at the first available opportunity. While it would've been very hard for a cast to match those Broadway greats, the Landor version was really rather excellent.

Set in 1920s New York, Millie Dillmount is a modern gal who travels to the big city to find a rich and successful husband, because she believes status, not love, is the most important thing in marriage. She moves into a hotel for single women, and after a rough start (she gets mugged on her first day in NYC) she manages to find a job as a typist for the man she decides she is going to marry. Things are not quite as straight-forward as she thought they'd be though; she keeps running into an annoying man by the name of Jimmy Smith, who distracts her from her goal of marrying her boss, and something sinister is going on at the hotel she's staying at, as her new friends disappear one after another.

The core story of Millie moving to the Big Apple to find a husband is still very relevant. In today's society it hasn't become any easier to find a partner, and a lot of people struggle finding the right balance between love and other attractions, such as money and status, when going into a relationship. So even though the musical is set in the 1920s, it felt very familiar. And while perhaps Millie is a tad too money-focused early on in the show, she's a very relatable character. Francesca Lara Gordon's bob-haired, flapper-dressed Millie was equal amounts determined and naive in the search for her future husband. Her performance was incredibly charming, but it were her powerful vocals that impressed me the most, and I was astounded when I read that she is a graduate with solely theatre roles whilst in training or workshops to her name. If she's already this incredible in her first professional stage performance, she will definitely be one to look out for in the coming years.

The entire largely young cast was impressive, especially during the lively song and dance sequences, which really mirrored the glittering fun of the 1920s. In the small space of the Landor there is no place to hide and every false note and out of sync movement becomes painfully obvious, but besides some technical issues on press night out of the actors' control their performances were exceptional, which elevated what could be perceived as a somewhat outdated show into something that was still incredibly joyous and entertaining. The one storyline that didn't translate well for a modern-day audience was that of the fake Asian hotel owner, Mrs Meers. Her dress, make-up and accent were hugely racist and the portrayal was too over the top, creating a caricature of a villainous character rather than a genuinely believable antagonist. This part of the musical was jarring and didn't sit well with Millie's determined search for a suitable husband.

That one cringe-worthy storyline aside, this was a roaring revival of Thoroughly Modern Millie. With bob-haired girls and glamorous parties, for just a few hours the incredibly talented cast transports its audience from modern-day London to the sparkling and smokey excitement of 1920s America.




Thoroughly Modern Millie is running at the Landor Theatre until 13 September 2015. You can book tickets here.

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