The glittering skyscraper fantasy of Thoroughly Modern Millie drops into the New Theatre Oxford this week as if designed for its swooping deco curves; the upwardly (and oddly sideways) mobile stage sparkles with lights and glamour. Enter Millie, fresh off the farm and ready to conquer New York, equipped only with her fast wit, kind heart and weapons-grade stenography. One supersonic makeover later (including a very impressive onstage haircut) she is ready to fall foul of the locals, insult her first millionaire and move into the local unsafe flophouse for young women, where Mrs Meers (codename Butterfly) drugs girls to sell into the sex trade, and the lift only works if you tap dance. The usual run of madcap adventures, semi-familiar songs and romantic struggles ensue.
Millie (Hayley Tamaddon of Dancing on Ice, Coronation Street and Emmerdale fame) hoofs and belts her way to happiness, switching clothes and moods with mercurial speed, goofy, glitzy, and melting or charming everyone she meets. Richard Meek is motor-mouthed and oblivious as buttoned-up, hunksome boss Trever Graydon. Michael Colbourne makes a handsome and charming Jimmy. Nicola Blackman soars as divine diva Muzzy van Hossmere, and scores some of the best zingers, despite the presence of Dorothy Parker in an astonishing blue dress. Guy Salim and Patrick Jeremy inject sweetness and charm into the difficult roles of Ching Ho and Bun Foo. Lucas Rush attacks the role of Mrs Meers head-on, a sardonic tower of terrifying drag, lamenting his lost stage career and frustrated ambitions.
This Broadway rework of the Julie Andrews film mitigates its queasier aspects but the weirdness of slumming millionaires mixing up with exploited and desperate immigrants and incomers still sits uneasily with the light froth of comedy pastiche. Nevertheless, all shall fall, before Millies’s tap dance fusillade and a tsunami of sequins, speakeasies, parties and enthusiasm.