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Thoroughly Modern Millie

By • West End
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Just as the title character of Thoroughly Modern Millie arrives in New York and discovers, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, that she's not in Kansas anymore, so Amanda Holden has arrived on the London stage to play the eponymous Millie and prove that she herself is not just a tabloid headline but also a headliner of real star quality.

Holden's the heart and the art of an all-guns-blazing Broadway blast of a show that has transferred here far quicker than any New York musical has for some time - where's The Producers, anyone? - just 18 months after it premiered there and swept its way to six Tony Awards.

Although it's based on a familiar movie musical, as with the stage version of Fame only the title song (by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn) survives from the original score. The rest has mostly been freshly re-constructed to pastiche period new songs by Jeanine Tesori (music) and Dick Scanlan (lyrics), wrapped within an entertainingly convoluted book by Richard Morris (who wrote the screenplay to the 1967 film) and Scanlan.

While the screen original was a throwback to a previous Julie Andrews flapper-age stage vehicle The Boyfriend (one that Andrews never got to do in the belated and disastrous film version), this new stage adaptation of Millie is likewise a throwback to an old-fashioned style of musical comedy.

But it's no criticism to say that it's a brand-new show that looks like a very old one. Indeed, that's high praise, proving that its creators have properly assimilated and appropriated the genre with as much skill as obvious affection. They've even not fought shy of the racial stereotyping of period shows, providing a delicious comic turn for Maureen Lipman who, disguised as a Chinese immigrant, runs the Hotel Priscilla boarding house for young actresses in Manhattan, from where she despatches orphan arrivals into a white slavery ring.

It is into this swirling melee of intrigue and romance that young Millie Dillmount (Holden) arrives in 1922 New York from small town America, and in short order, finds herself losing her purse, her shoe and soon her heart to the man to whom she appeals for help, Jimmy Smith (played by Mark McGee, last seen as Marilyn in the Boy George musical Taboo, who changes gear and gender identity to become a wonderfully fresh-faced juvenile lead).

While Holden gives it her all, and then some, in a performance that appealingly combines knowingness with innocence, she also has an attractive singing voice and a loose-limbed vitality as a dancer - she's more than capable of holding her own against the mass-ranked chorus in Rob Ashford's spectacular flapper choreography.

With Craig Urbani also providing another of his finely chiselled comic romantic turns as Millie's boss, and Sheila Ferguson giving some heft (and breast) as a nightclub singer belatedly shoe-horned into the plot at the end of the first act, Michael Mayer's expertly executed production is a crowd-pleasing winner.

- Mark Shenton


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