Thoroughly Modern Millie

Presented by Swell Productions and State Opera of SA
Reviewed Saturday 14th July 2012

This is another in the highly successful Broadway Junior series, featuring a large cast of up and coming young performers who have been working with Patrick Lim and his team of teachers. The 1967 film, starring Julie Andrews, was rewritten as a stage musical in 2002, winning a Tony Award, and this is the school version of that work. The film used a lot of existing tunes that would have been heard quite often in the early 1920s, such as Poor Butterfly, Jazz Baby, Rose of Washington Square, and Baby Face. The stage play has a completely new score, with music by Jeanine Tesori, and lyrics by Dick Scanlan, who co-wrote the book with Richard Morris. Only the title song has been carried over from the film.

Millie Dillmount has arrived in New York from Salina, Kansas, in pursuit of a rich husband. Marrying for money rather than love was a ‘modern’ idea in 1922. After initial setbacks she adopts the style and lifestyle of a ‘flapper’, shortening her skirt and bobbing her hair. She meets Jimmy Smith, a streetwise young man who tells her to go home again. Instead, she finds a room in a hotel, a job as a stenographer under the eagle eye of the supervisor, Miss Flannery, and immediately sets her cap at the rich boss, Trevor Graydon III.

The hotel is not quite what it seems, however, and the owner Mrs. Meers, keeps an eye out for girls with no family. She is involved in the white slave trade and, when she kidnaps them, she explains their disappearance by saying that they had left the hotel, something that nobody would question being an everyday event. She is assisted by two Chinese children whom she has promised to help bring their mother from China to America.

Into this situation comes the heiress, Miss Dorothy, pretending to be a poor orphan in order to see how the other half lives. She takes Millie into her confidence, but Mrs. Meers only sees her as another potential victim. What happens next, you will find out when you attend a performance.

Director, Patrick Lim, who also choreographed the piece and designed the set, and Musical Director, Heather Elliott, have created a fine piece of theatre, suitable for young and old alike. The set is an eye catching black and white line drawing outline of New York, based on the cartoons seen in The New Yorker, a popular publication of the era. The music is recorded, allowing a full orchestral accompaniment. Laraine Wheeler designed and operated the lighting, another superb piece of work from this much sort after designer.

There are two alternating casts in this production, so this review refers only to those performing principal roles on the opening performance.

As usual with this group, the chorus is very large, with young people of all ages performing with enormous enthusiasm and clearly having a great time. There was no shortage of smiling faces in this chorus as they sang and danced for all they were worth. There was, of course, a copious quantity of tap dancing, which is always a big winner with audiences.

Millie is played by Emily Wood, who was a bright as a button, presenting a Millie who is suitably wide eyed at her first sight of New York, and overwhelmed by the rush and crush on the streets. Wood cleverly shows us the changes in Millie as she grows in strength and confidence and eventually begins to question whether marrying for money is really such a good idea. Her charm and lovely singing voice make her an ideal romantic lead.

Jimmy Smith is played by Mitchell Smith, who presents us with somebody who could easily be seen as a young Arthur Daley; quick talking, dodging and diving, avoiding involvements, and living on his wits. His lively performance and strong vocals are well suited to his character, and he plays the reluctant lover marvellously.

As Trevor Graydon III, Matthew Prime is every bit the extremely rich and successful young businessman, from his shiny shoes, to his snappy suit, to his well groomed hair. Prime walks around the stenographic pool as though he owns the place which, of course, Graydon does. He is nicely aloof, until he meets Miss Dorothy Brown and melts.

Jasmine Garcia is his assistant, Miss Flannery, and she manages to get plenty of laughs out of playing this rather austere stenographers’ supervisor with a soft heart. She finds all of the humour in the role and delivers her lines with good comic timing.

The socialite, Miss Dorothy Brown, is played by Caitlin Mortimer-Royle who gives her character fine touch of refinement, sophistication, and class. She is delightful as the sweet innocent young thing who has been sheltered from the real world by her position in society. Miss Dorothy’s naivety almost gets her into trouble, but her new friends are there to help.

Yen Yen Stender plays Mrs. Meers, hotelier and part time white slave trader, making the most of her chance to portray the villain, most often considered by actors to be the best role in any musical comedy. Stender does not hold back and gives the role all of her energy, which results in lots of laughs and applause from the audience.

Her two reluctant assistants, Ching Ho and Bun Foo, are played by Harry Fielder and Leah Harford, but Mrs. Meers does not realise that they are quietly working against her. They start to conspire against her after Bun Foo is sent to drug Miss Dorothy, but falls for her instead. Fielder and Harford make a most endearing pair as the young Chinese siblings.

This is definitely a top flight family show and, if there are still tickets available, you could make yourself very popular by taking yours along for an afternoon treat.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.

State Opera web site
Swell Productions Web Site

Venue: State Opera Studio, 216 Marion Road, Netley
Season: 2pm 21st and 22nd July 2012, with a school performance on 20th July
Duration: 2hr 10mins
Tickets: Adult $35.25/conc. $30.55/child under 17 $25.25
Bookings: BASS 131 246 or here or at the door if tickets are available.

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