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TV's loss is Shaftesbury Avenue's gain with Holden



Review by David Munro

BANG the drums, for here comes Thoroughly Modern Millie to the Shaftesbury Theatre where, if the enthusiasm of yesterday's audience was anything to go by, she will stay for some time.

Thoroughly Modern Millie started as a successful film in 1967, with Julie Andrews, although her roots may reach farther back than that, to a Pat Kirkwood musical, in 1958, Chrysanthemum, which also dealt with innocent girls being sold into white slavery and rescued by the heroine.

The plot of Millie, though, is mainly concerned with the girl from Texas, Millie (Amanda Holden), who comes to New York, in 1922, with the determination to marry her boss, and who achieves her aim, although not in the way she intended.

The sub-plot concerns the activities of the proprietress of the hotel where she lodges, Mrs Meers (Maureen Lipman), who sells those of her guests who are orphans, with the help of two Chinese laundry boys, to a mysterious Mr Buddah for shipment to the Far East.

Unfortunately for her, she selects for a victim, Miss Dorothy, a friend of Millie, who marshals her boyfriend, Jimmy (Mark McGee), and her boss, Trevor Graydon (Craig Urbani), to come to her aid and Mrs Meer's dastardly plot is foiled.

In the film, this slice of melodrama was decked out with period songs; of the four original songs only two, the title number and Millie's song of her love for Jimmy 'Jimmy', have been retained for the production, the rest of the workmanlike if uninspiring score being mainly by Jeanine Tesori.

The ahow won a Tony Award on Broadway and this production is clearly a facsimile - same director, Michael Mayer; same designers, David Gallo and Martin Packledinaz, and choreographer, Rob Ashford, but none the less, it is hard to understand the award.

One must assume that the dancing was crisper and more professional on Broadway, and the orchestra there did not wage war on the singers, trying to drown them out at every possible opportunity.

The costumes are good and the sets, mainly a backdrop of a stylised New York, are minimal and move the action along competently but, basically, it is an old-fashioned musical comedy, and nothing special at that.

Having said which, I feel that this production has one advantage over New York, Amanda Holden.

Here is a musical star of blazing talent and charisma. From her lonely entrance at the opening curtain, until the slaphappy denouement, she dominates the stage and virtually carries the show on her slim shoulders.

Her singing voice is charming, mellifluous and powerful, her performance is natural and funny, so that it is hard to believe that this is her debut in the West End and in a high-powered musical.

Without her, the show would be nothing. Her male lead, Mark McGee, sings and dances pleasantly, but fails to wrest his role from the archetypal jeune premier mould.

Craig Urbani, as her boss, sings well and is very effective in a scene with Miss Holden, where he dictates a letter to her in the form of a Gilbert and Sullivan patter song (the music is actually Sullivan), which she reads back in a similar vein. He also carries off, literally, one of the most embarrassing final exits of any leading man in a musical, when he takes one of the Chinese laundry boys as a replacement for Millie, sic or sick, whichever way you care to view it.

As the hapless Miss Dorothy, Helen Brown sings well and displays a pleasant style of comedy, which, unfortunately, cannot be said for Maureen Lipman.

As Mrs Meers, she puts on a grotesque parody of a theatrical Chinese voice and hams up her role to the extent that it becomes embarrassing.

Admittedly, she is meant to be a failed actress hiding from the police in the guise of a Chinese woman, but surely no bad actress was ever that bad! The programme tells us that Marti Webb takes over the part on certain nights. I only wish she had done so the time I was there.

Sheila Ferguson, as Muzzy Van Hossmere, the night club singer and ex-wife of a multi millionaire, successfully repels memories of Carol Channing in the role in the film and makes it her own.

Her singing is powerful and effective as is her comedy. One is only sorry that there was not more of her during the show, and less of Maureen Lipman.

However, the enjoyment of the show overall, and it was considerable, is entirely due to Miss Holden.

By her personal alchemy, she changed the leaden show into a golden evening of pleasure.

The producers should, if you will pardon the pun, be truly beholden to her from turning what could have been a disaster into the makings of a triumphant success. Let us hope that TV's loss will be Shaftesbury Avenue's gain for a long time yet to come.

Thoroughly Modern Millie by Richard Morris & Dick Scanlon, Lyrics Dick Scanlon, Music Jeanine Tesori, additional words and music by Sammy Cahn & Jimmy van Heusen, Jay Thompson, Victor Herbert & Rida Johnson Young, Sam Lewis, Joe Young, Walter Donaldson, Directed by Michael Mayer, Design David Gallo, Choreography Rob Ashford, Costumes Martin Pakledinaz, Lighting Donald Holder, Sound Jon Weston , Conductor/ Music Director Mark Warman. WITH: Amanda Holden, Maureen Lipman, Sheila Ferguson, Mark McGee, Craig Urbani, Zoe Hardman, Donna Steele, Rachel Barrell, Selina Chilton, Vickie Coote, Nacy Wei George, Gabrielle Khan, Yo Santhaveesuk, Unku, Rachel Izen, Pip Jordan, Tobias Walbom, Mike Scott, Phong Truong, Christian Gibson, Roberto Giuffrida, Adam Brooks, Chris Bailey, Matt Flint, Hayley Flaherty, Jayde Westaby, Tim Beaumont, Mike Denman, and with Marti Webb & Johnnie Fiori.

Produced by Paul Elliott, Duncan C Weldon & Pat Moylan with Michael Levitt, Fox Theatricals, Hal Luftig, Stewart F. Lane, Bonnie Comley, Independent Presenters Network, Libby Adler Mages, Mary Glick Stuart, John Noble and Whoopi Goldberg and presented at the Shaftesbury Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2 on Monday - Saturday at 7.45 pm (Matinee Thursday & Saturday at 3.pm. Tickets 0870 906 3829 / 020 7379 5399.

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