Musical Youth Company of Oxford | Oxford Playhouse, Wed 9th - Sat 12th April 2008
Stepping out of the audience, Millie Dillmount arrives in the Big Apple. A modern girl in a big bad world, she’s looking for a husband but has no time for love, “not for the life of me”. So begins The Musical Youth Company of Oxford’s ravishing production of Thoroughly Modern Millie.
Millie reckons a modern girl’s future is a matter of business – marry your boss. But without a dime, she winds up in the Hotel Priscilla, a down-at-heel home for struggling actresses and a front for Mrs Meers’ dodgy dealings. With friends going missing, and with men to be met, what’s a girl to do?
Bright and breezy, and often breathtakingly good, this show’s never less than thoroughly entertaining. Mostly, it downright impresses. Singing and dancing, acting and accents are all pretty much flawless. And not just the leads. Take a look at the back-row of the chorus and everyone’s in character giving it their all.
Hayley Bater never misses a beat. Sparky and winsome, Millie’s highs and lows are believably conveyed. And Bater’s voice, from ensemble pieces to her standout solo Gimme Gimme, never falters. It’s an unselfish performance that typifies the good-natured camaraderie of the cast.
All the principals make the parts their own. Frankie Williams as the evil Mrs Meers enjoys every minute – and so do we. As an ex-con actress, posing as Chinese landlady and plotting a white-slave trade, it’s a tricky role: but Williams nails the ballsy bravado with comic and musical skill.
Caught between boss and beau, Millie’s got some choosing to do. Finn Cockburn as the pencil-moustached boss and Anthony Ilott as the rakish, matinee-idol man-about-town, are wonderfully delineated. Ilott’s duets with Millie and his own solo, jailhouse-ballad are lovely to hear.
Step forward too Laura Chaitow as the ingénue actress Miss Dorothy, whose comic timing and crystal voice come together in an impressively hammed-up duet with Cockburn. Camila Durnin’s eye-catching chanteuse Muzzy van Hossmere also gets to carry off a scene-stealing southern-belle accent late in the show.
And the comedy-duo of James Yan and Donal Anand Shaw as Chinese brothers-in-crime is worthy of the applause they get. Shaw matches Yan’s fluency and together they demonstrate a dexterity of physical and verbal humour. Check out the surtitles if you don’t know your Chinese!
Sound quality is not always at its best: some of the speaking lines fight hard against too-loud orchestration and not every song’s words are fully heard. Front rows might also hear the distracting rumble of the scenery changes. But these are quibbles.
The choreography is delightfully imaginative, never overly-busy, filling the stage with beautiful movement and deftly-done detail: tap-dancing typewriter effects typify the show’s fusion of comedy and dance. It’s matched, too, by a creativity of set design and an astonishing variety of costume which wouldn’t be out of place in a professional show.
Director Guy Brigg’s programme notes call it “a fantastic show, full of colourful characters, fun, life and cracking songs”. He’s not wrong. Why go to the West End when you’ve got talent as good as this on your doorstep?