Based on the 1967 film, Thoroughly Modern Millie is a frothy, souffle-light musical comedy about sex trafficking. Having written that sentence I’m beginning to doubt my sanity but yes, it centres on an evil hotel owner (Lucas Rush) who kidnaps young women to sell them into the ‘depravity and licentiousness‘ of the white slave trade. It’s done as pantomime but given this slightly strange conceit you wonder why the show’s authors decide to have a scene where its heroine ponders whether it’s OK for a man to take a woman ‘by brute force’. Skipping over its dodgy sexual attitudes there’s also the problem that its ’20s pastiche songs are competent but, apart from the title song, fairly unmemorable. However, the two leads have enough talent and charisma that they pretty much save the day.
Millie Dillmount (Strictly’s Joanne Clifton) comes from rural Kansas to New York intent on finding herself a husband. After having her purse stolen she purposefully trips over Jimmy Smith (Sam Barrett) hoping he’ll come to her rescue. They instantly start rowing with each other which instantly made me suspect they’d be madly in love with each by the final curtain. The 2005 Spoiler Act prevents me from revealing whether this prediction came true or not. Millie finds herself at a hotel run by Mrs Meers (Rush) – this comedy sinister-Oriental is probably not racist as we’re supposed to be laughing at the character pretending to be Chinese and doing it in an offensively stereotypical way. I’m guessing. Again, let’s not dwell on this aspect of the show as just round the corner there’s a great dance routine set in a speakeasy. Millie has lots of adventures in the city as she tries to snare a rich man in marriage; as she read in Vogue the modern woman marries for money. But will she ditch this mercenary plan and instead follow her heart and find true love? I’d like to tell you but if I did some legislation from 2005 might see me doing jail time.
This production has some great dancing, some fantastic singing (Jenny Fitzpatrick as Muzzy Van Hossmere deserves a special mention here) and on the whole it’s a fun night out. Barrett has the requisite matinee-idol looks and a wonderful rapport with his co-star. Apart from a great voice Clifton has genuine charm which makes it easier to suspend both disbelief and any nagging worries about the show’s politics.
Continues until Saturday 8 at the Theatre Royal, Brighton.