As the curtain rose on Babirra’s latest offering, Thoroughly Modern Millie, it was clear that this would be a production full of energy. Stephanie John burst onto the stage as the title character, Millie Dillmount, and with her big, bright, Sutton Foster smile, charmed the audience from the get-go. Setting the bar for the performance to follow, John’s presentation was undoubtedly a highlight of this delightful edition of the Tesori favourite. With a crystalline voice and expert comic timing, this petite package (John) packs a performance punch!
Off to a flying start, high expectations were set and I am pleased to say that they were met at almost every turn. With many of the principal cast graduates of the performing arts institution, APO, the next to impress was Ian Andrew, whose melodramatic interpretation of Trevor Graydon was sharp and well matched to the style of the show. The clever, well-rehearsed interactions with John were really pleasing to watch and displayed a sound understanding of the era.
Amateur theatre veteran Natasha Basset returned to the Whitehorse Centre and leant on her solid acting chops to play the duplicitous role of Mrs. Meers. Her clever ad libs had me giggling in my seat and she really nailed her performance as the villain the audience loved to hate.
Miss. Dorothy, played by the stunning Grace Kingsford, was delightful. While Kingsford gave a seamless performance, I couldn’t help but wonder if the supporting female role lacked the underlying smarts and fortitude that the artful character deserves. Kingsford’s vocals were beautiful, albeit slightly off-voice against the vibrant ping of John’s timbre, and she impressed with her legit soprano notes. Regardless of the minor details, Kingsford is clearly a notable talent who I could easily watch onstage in any number of roles.
Strong cameo performances were played by a number of ensemble members, including Ariella Gordon as Ruth and Emily Hall as Mrs Flannery, which added a detailed professionalism to the show.
It has become commonplace in modern musical theatre to eliminate the backstage crew and opt for a more fluid transition of scenes, using the cast to move set pieces, often in a highly stylised fashion. This integrated movement allows the audience a smooth passage from scene to scene. Despite one laboured set change in the second act, the scenery was craftily manoeuvred throughout the show and transitions were seamless. Set pieces were both functional and representative without being overbearing or clunky.
When attending professional theatrical productions, it’s ever-clear to see that technology has revolutionised the way that we, as an audience, interact with live performances. We are now beginning to see that revolution filter into amateur productions and Babirra’s Thoroughly Modern Millie is no exception. This seems to be a favourite technique for director, Karl McNamara and was used not only for scenery and set-dressing but to provide English subtitles for Mrs. Meers’ helpless servants, Ching Ho and Bun Foo.
Costume design can either make or break a show; immersing the audience in the world, or pulling them back to the here-and-now with the slightest contextual error. This, however, was not the case for this production. Meredith Cooney’s garments shone almost as brightly as the performers themselves and added a finesse that made the audience sit that extra inch forward on their seat. From the pallet to the style and even fit, Cooney’s job was outstanding, flattering each of the performers onstage in true 20s style.
With strong, unapologetic directional choices by McNamara, this show was carefully crafted and guided its audience terrifically from plot-point to plot-point. The transitions from scene into song were also effortlessly achieved, something often overlooked by directors on the amateur circuit.
While tap dancing was not this cast’s strength, movement was tight for the most part. The choreography, by Steve Rostron, was unique and featured some very subtle nods to the Broadway legend, Bob Fosse, with sharp movement and cannon-style ensemble dancing. All the while, the orchestra, led by Vicky Quinn, played on, supplying a faultless accompaniment to the performers onstage.
Overall this production was of a very high standard and everyone involved should be incredibly proud of their theatrical achievement.