Based on the movie of the same name, starring the incomparable Julie Andrews, Thoroughly Modern Millie follows the trials and tribulations faced by Miss Millie Dillmount, a young woman of the 1920s, whose ambition to become a new-age ‘modern’ with a well-to-do husband in New York City finds her fall into an array of hilarious (and sometimes very moving) situations. Like MLOC director Lyn Laister, I too ‘firmly believe that this [stage] version is better’, despite our shared love for all things Julie Andrews. The score is captivating, the characters enticing and, of course, the token tap numbers are always a bonus.
MLOC’s take on this mammoth Tony Award winning production was admirable and quaint. Mentioned in her director’s note, it was Laister’s hope that this production would be enjoyed by all ages simply due to the show’s fun and nostalgia and, if the audible belly laughs and humming of the exiting audience is anything to go by, she should be comforted in the knowledge that this goal was well met. As the curtain rose, audiences caught their first glimpse of the simple New York skyline set in front of the orchestra led by musical director Stacey-Louise Camilleri. The music direction was tight and well executed throughout the show – while the band seemed to need a couple of numbers to warm up, they truly came into their own, melding well with the cast especially during the coveted patter song ‘The Speed Test’ – a song whose very fast tempo and rapid succession of rhythmic patterns is very impressive when executed appropriately – just as this group was able to achieve. As the orchestra was visible on stage, it was also refreshing to note how enthusiastic all members, and in particular Camilleri herself, were throughout the show. Despite this causing me to become distracted from the story unfolding in front of me at times, it was enjoyable to be met with such passionate musicians in community theatre.
Amy Gridley portrayed the illustrious Millie Dillmount with, at times, a spunk and charisma to be applauded. This however was a little inconsistent as sometimes her performance came across as a little lacklustre against the enormity of the ensemble. Her performance of ‘Gimme Gimme’ was stunning – her vocals captivating and unfaltering. It was unfortunate that many times throughout the performance, Gridley was not seen very well due to her having stepped out of the light or the light not hitting her to begin with. This was disappointing and distracting as I felt as though much of the strength of her performance was lost – especially the comical nuances Millie is known for. It is my hope that this was just an opening night blunder and that audiences at subsequent shows were able to better appreciate Gridley’s performance illuminated.
Millie’s first love interest, Mr. Trevor Graydon was played by the exceptionally talented Ash Cooper. Cooper, whose performance hinted at ‘Family Guy’ funny man Seth McFarlane, was enthralling as Mr. Graydon and left the audiences in stitches, especially following ‘The Speed Test’ and his portrayal of a drunken Graydon at the conclusion of Act 2. His comedic timing was impeccable, matched by his impressive vocal chops. However, James Robertson as Millie’s final love interested, Jimmy Smith, was a definite standout. His performance felt natural yet well-calculated. His suave portrayal contrasted Gridley’s hyperactive Millie in all the right ways. Similar to Gridley, however, Roberston also fell victim to standing outside of the light at times which again made the strength of his performance more difficult to absorb. His vocals were strong with small inconsistencies that are easily forgiven against the calibre of his acting performance. It was a shame that many times the sound would go in and out impacting these two male leads (as well as Trish Carr who played Mrs. Meers and Mandie Lee as Miss Dorothy) the most, causing quite some distraction.
The ensemble in this show was quite large. At times, it felt as though many of the ensemble as well as the main players became lost on stage, consumed by the larger group around them. With that said however, the ensemble were very obviously enjoying their time on stage with Roisin O’Neill and Jennifer Barrett giving notable, enthusiastic and consistent performances. At times, the choreography was not executed to its full potential and could have definitely done with some polishing and tightening however it was just nice to see an ensemble with animated and engaged facial expressions as I feel like I am often met with very disengaged and almost bored ensemble performers. It is perhaps sad to think that a lively chorus may no longer be an expectation when seeing a show.
Ju-Han Soon and William Kim as Ching Ho and Bun Foo were exceptional and a crowd favourite. Their energy both in the ensemble and as the minions of Mrs. Meers were fun-filled and well-executed. It was a shame that the pair were sometimes unnecessarily overshadowed by Carr’s Mrs. Meers.
It would be remiss not to mention the exceptional efforts of Carly Daley as Muzzy Van Hossmere. Daley who is expecting her first child in September took great strides in hiding her baby bump and providing a brilliant performance. Her energy was unwavering and should be commended.
MLOC’s Millie was, as Lyn Laister has hoped, a ‘fun-filled presentation’. While sound and lighting issues did prove distracting and hindered the audience’s ability to remain encapsulated with the performances, the heart of the show was not lost and the passion of the performer’s was clear.