5-stars

It was over ten years ago that I saw ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ at the Shaftesbury Theatre, it was one of the first West End shows I had seen  and, already a fan of the film, it kick-started my love of the theatre.  So when I heard the production was coming to the Landor Theatre, directed by Matthew Iliffe, I knew I had to see it, even if I did feel some trepidation that it may not live up to my memories and expectations.

I need not have worried. Of course, this is a very different production, it has a scaled back cast and is far more intimate, and exactly what Matthew Ilife planned. Yet, we miss none of the songs nor any of the plot, if anything the small Landor Theatre brings the audience as close as is possible to the action.

The story revolves around small town girl, ‘Millie’, arriving in New York with one aim, to marry her boss. She just has to find a job first. But her plan starts to fall apart when she meets ‘Jimmy’ and falls in love, her new found friend ‘Miss Dorothy’ is a fellow resident at the Pricilla Hotel managed by ‘Mrs Meers’ and this unlikely group romp through 1920’s life tackling everything from prohibition to white slavery.

Francesca Lara Gordon is a sassy, confident ‘Millie’ who lights up the stage. She is everything that ‘Mille’ should be and truly captures the essence of the ‘modern’.

Ben Stacey is a joy to see perform, he gives us a reason to adore ‘Jimmy’, with his youthful good looks, and a real talent for song and dance.  This is an actor with a bright future ahead.

Sarah-Marie Maxwell as ‘Miss Dorothy’ is not only stunningly beautiful, but has a glorious singing voice that could easily fill the biggest West End Theatre.

Steph Parry is wonderful as Mrs Meers bringing the role an extra twist of comic genius supported by deliciously funny performances from Anthony Starr and Alex Codd who are a glorious double act that I could have gladly watched all night.

Christina Meehan in a variety of roles, but in particular, ‘Miss Flannery’ is a dream, from the high pitched voice to the hilarious facial expressions, every scene she played was a real treat.  Equally was any scene with Samuel Harris who played his part perfectly, here is a true example of how the slightly over the top character should be played, especially in ‘Falling in Love with Someone’

Chipo Kureya as the effervescent ‘Muzzy’ was a delight to watch and listen to, although she looked far younger than the jokes about her age implied.  George Hinson, Thomas Inge and Charlie Johnson completed the talented cast, chopping and changing roles in a mad cap frenzy that perfectly encapsulated the 1920’s feel.

The dancing was sublime, an absolutely wonderful celebration of the era, the entire cast was flawless and the choreography left no room for improvement. In bringing this show to a small fringe theatre it needed this wow factor to live up to its name.

A small band of five provided the music, led by Musical Director Chris Guard, they did the score justice, and then some.  An absolute triumph for this team.

So I wasn’t disappointed by my trip down memory lane, if anything I felt closer to the show. What this production demonstrates is that it is possible to take the biggest Broadway shows and transpose them to a small London stage, not by doing it the same but by having a talent for turning limitations into opportunities. That’s exactly what Matthew Iliffe and his talented team of cast and creatives have achieved and should serve as an example to anyone who wishes to do the same.

Greg is an award-winning writer with a huge passion for theatre. He has appeared on stage, as well as having directed several plays in his native Scotland. Greg is the founder and editor of Theatre Weekly

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