Entering the auditorium for a first look at Tom Rogers' extraordinary set is just the start of this thoroughly delightful experience. His monochrome vertical map of Manhattan is a fine scene setter and he goes on to create miracles on this tiny stage - street scenes, hotel corridors, typing pools, speakeasies and, of course, an elevator that only works if you tap dance.
It’s an outstanding example of how this microspace inspires the ingenious designer. And Philip Gladwell’s lighting mouth-wateringly colour washes that monochrome, creating instant atmosphere.
But I didn’t come out singing the set, for Paul Herbert’s high-octane musical arrangements thrill from the first notes of the opening brass played by as talented a group of actor/musicians as I’ve ever seen on this stage.
The plot of this 1920s-set movie musical brought to the stage is disarmingly daft. Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan’s book and lyrics poke affectionate fun at the notion of the “modern girl”, the flapper intent on her right to bob her hair, shorten her skirt and make her way in the world.
Millie is a small-town girl in the big city determined to use her Olympian speed-typing and shorthand skills as a means to her end - marrying the boss. She checks in to an all-girl hotel and finds a ready-made sisterhood of flappers - though scary concierge Mrs Meers is not quite what she seems and has other plans for her guests, involving a different definition of” working girl”. How Millie’s plans take unexpected turns makes for a whole lot of wonderfully-staged numbers. Alistair David’s delicious choreography is spot on, Rogers’ fun flapper frocks light up the stage and the cast is extraordinary both individually and as an ensemble.
Eleanor Brown is simply delicious as Millie, easily banishing memories of a rather more anodyne Julie Andrews in the movie with her full-throttled performance. She’s nicely partnered with Helen Power’s wide-eyed Miss Dorothy, her new-found friend and room-mate and there’s great support from Cici Howells’ Lucille and Lauren Storer’s Gloria, two more of those thoroughly modern girls.
Amy Booth-Steel’s hilariously villainous white-slave trader wouldn’t look out of place in Snow White, attempting to drug a guest – any guest – with a sedative-laced apple so she can sell her off to the highest bidder. Moyo Akande’s twinkling statuesque socialite Muzzy is another delight and the men are no slackers. Lee Honey-Jones’ sassy knowing New York chancer is a fine match for Millie and Alex Turney is comic and sympathetic as office boss Dexter.
Dexter Galang and Benjamin Wong are terrific as Mrs Meers’ unwilling accomplices, relishing the slapstick fun of their largely unsuccessful attempts at kidnapping.
Among the treats are scenes in Chinese with cinema-like surtitles crowned by a Chinese rendition of Al Jolson’s "Mammy" and a stupendously funny jazzy use of the Nutcracker Suite (new music by Jeanine Tesori, who also patters along like Gilbert and Sullivan)
The audience quite rightly adored director Caroline Leslie’s high-octane production, which, as I overheard a fellow attendee saying, leaves you with a warm happy glow.
- Judi Herman