Thoroughly Modern Millie

by Richard Morris, Dick Scanlan & Jeanine Tesori; dir Stephen Duckham
Leamington & Warwick Musical Society @ Royal Spa Centre, Leamington Spa
27  – 31 March 2012

The Leamington & Warwick Musical Society used to be called the Leamington & Warwick Operatic Society, and the name-change a few years back was in recognition of the fact that the company had long since broadened its repertoire to include more varied fare. In fact, it’s quite a while now since the LWMS produced anything resembling an opera, and over the past few years their programme of standard Broadway musicals has on occasion been spiced up by the addition of more upbeat, even daring, titles such as The Full Monty, Summer Holiday and Jesus Christ Superstar; for next year they’ve announced Mel Brooks’ irreverent crowd-pleaser, The Producers. So: an amateur musical society not afraid of a challenge.

Thoroughly Modern Millie certainly presents a challenge, and it’s one that the company almost manages to rise to. As tends to happen with the traditional musical societies nowadays, the resident chorus is augmented by a handful of imported principals; and it’s the latter who generally come off best, with Sue Randall outstanding as the title character, Millie Dillmount, the Kansas girl turned New York flapper who gets mixed up in a plot to sell orphaned girls into white slavery, managed by the evil Mrs Meers (Wendy Morris displaying exemplary comic timing). Newcomers Imogen Parker, as Dorothy Brown, and David Kilgour, as Trevor Graydon, both give confident performances; and Millie’s love interest Jimmy is a triumph for LWMS regular Sam Henshaw, who grows in assurance with every show in which he appears.

On the down side, Tabitha Bradburn is woefully miscast as Muzzy van Hossmere, the role played by Carol Channing in the 1967 film; the smaller roles are mostly underplayed; and too many of the chorus seem to find it beyond them to look like they’re actually enjoying themselves while singing and dancing. This is such a shame in what’s supposed to be a feel-good musical; the second half of the show generally works better because the focus is more on the principals, most of whom can act as well as sing.

Director Stephen Duckham provides some nice comic touches – the scene where Millie, Jimmy and Trevor alternately swap seats while figuring out a way to foil Mrs Meers’ plot is a highlight – and the music and choreography generally serve the production well. The set is visually impressive although it appears to have a mind of its own on occasion, which reinforces the general impression of a company working hard while not being fully prepared for performance. Another week’s run and the whole thing would undoubtedly be a lot slicker than it is.

Overall, though, a fun night out with some strong central performances.

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