Thoroughly Modern Millie

Thoroughly Modern Millie takes us on a journey through the Roaring Twenties – a decade characterised by its cultural edge and economic prosperity. From the small town of Kansas, Millie Dillmount sets off on an adventure to find herself a job and marry her rich employer. Although an easy plan in theory, Millie struggles with choosing between wealth and love.

Overall UMMTA’s revitalisation of the musical brought many laughs and much joy to the audience. Millie Dillmount (Grace Haslinghouse) showed she was a triple threat with tremendous acting, singing and dancing skills which could see her tap her way to many more lead roles. Her love interest, Jimmy (Tom Kantor), had perfect comic timing throughout the show and sang and acted brilliantly, making the audience fall in love with him too. Miss Dorothy (Rafaela Cleeve Gerkens) had audience members hypnotised by her innocence as well as her controlled and incredibly ranged vocals, which provided a softer layer to the raspy jazz numbers. Mr. Trevor Graydon (Simon Wright) was an absolute standout. His phenomenal voice and control in “The Speed Test” is to be applauded and I would not be surprised if he ‘sped’ his way to our big stages.

Mrs. Meers is a complex character to play and Niamh O’Keefe is to be congratulated on an incredible effort. An audience favorite, O’Keefe held an Asian accent and used character hooks and facial expressions to her advantage in showcasing her evil intent. Her partners Ching Ho (Tom Lew) and Bun Foo (David Vien) had great acting ability, and the effort dedicated to singing in another language is to be admired. Muzzy Van Hossmere (Helena Duniec) embraced her inner Bessie Smith and delivered a solid performance with good control of her dynamics. Miss Flannery (Sarah Brown)’s use of a consistent accented voice and exaggerated dancing added up to a strong character knowledge and a strong performance, complemented by her bright teal blue hair!

The choreography throughout the show is to be highly commended. Choreographer Keshia Contini understood the varied abilities of her cast and used this knowledge to perfection when taking the audience back to the 1920s. Director Spencer Hadlow had great artistic vision, which formed a tight show.

Another highlight of the show was the music. The band was cohesive in playing such a fast-paced musical show and its volume was perfect in accompanying and not overpowering the action on stage. I must draw attention to the musical director Taylen Furness whose enthusiasm throughout the entire show was a standout. During the final number, I sneaked a look at the television where Furness could be seen by the performers and saw him dancing, singing and acting. He was actually quite good and I thought he should have made an appearance on stage.

All in all, UMMTA and the cast of Thoroughly Modern Millie have done a great job in delivering a tough musical. The entire cast stayed in character, sang well and danced with great passion. Most of all, each and every one of them looked like they “thoroughly” enjoyed taking part in the production, and I “thoroughly” enjoyed watching it.

Mikaela Farrugia

Thoroughly Modern Millie is playing in the Union Theatre, Union House, the University of Melbourne from 8-16 May. Tickets can be purchased here.

One thought on “Thoroughly Modern Millie

  1. I agree with the assessment of much of the acting in Thoroughly Modern Millie, clearly UMMTA put up a very talented cast.

    However aren’t the themes of the show a little antiquated (somewhat ironically at odds with the title of the piece). I think that it would not be too much to say that Mrs Mears is basically a racist stereotype. The character is an American actress disguised as a Chinese boarding house mistress complete with ‘yellow-face’ (admittedly the stereotypical white facepaint and makeup seen in Chinese theatre) and an “L and R” confused accent. The Chinese is portrayed as the other who is “destroying American society” (seen in the distress shown at “White Slavery”) by abducting their young women. Is this divisive representation really appropriate in a modern society that prides itself on pluralism? Would we be as accepting if the character were in blackface?

    Credit where credit is due, Ching Ho and Dorothy do end up falling in love (which is quite easy in the world of the musicial).

    Not to mention that the horror of abducting young women to be sold into the sex trade is never truly addressed in the play (apart Mrs Mears joking “Enjoy the long nights in Hong Kong!”). Indeed one is left wondering what happened to the first abductee shown in the performance.

    I realise that these are arguably issues with the text of the work. But why should this make a difference to the assessment of the performance? An active choice was made to perform the values contained within the text. Even if UMMTA does not agree with the values within one cannot disagree with a performance’s values but wave off a performance as a value free zone and a “bit of good fun”. It smacks of the school bully telling you how much of a loser one is and then dismissing it by saying “Just kidding!”

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