Monday, June 17, 2013

Theatre: Thoroughly Modern Millie

By Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan
Book by Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan
WAAPA Second and Third Year Music Theatre students
Directed by Crispin Taylor
Music Director David King
Choreographer Jenny Lynnd
Set Design by Steve Nolan
Regal Theatre
Until June 22
The WA Academy of Performing Art's annual musical at the Regal Theatre is one of the highlights of Perth’s entertainment calendar. WAAPA has a precious resource to throw at the
production; thirty-six of its prodigiously talented Music Theatre students. It can call on its music students to strike up a 20-piece band, and roll out creative and production credits as long as a Hollywood movie. There are 128 people (not counting front-of-house, marketing and administration staff) working on this year’s show.
What this means is that WAAPA can mine the repertoire of great musicals from all eras to showcase the talents of its students. It’s a wonderful opportunity for them, even if Thoroughly Modern Millie doesn’t reach the heights of its most recent predecessors, last year’s captivating How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and 2011’s ravishing Crazy For You.
Be that as it may, the story of Millie (Emily Hart), an archetypical small town girl from Kansas, is as brisk as it is befuddling and sassy as it is silly.
Having avoided being borne away to Oz by tornado, our Millie lands in New York and soon finds herself mugged, but with her ambition – to marry, and do it rich – absolutely intact. Jimmy Smith (Clay Roberts), the boy who dismissively ticks her off and directs her to lodgings at the Hotel Priscilla, is hardly a candidate. Much more promising is Mr Trevor Graydon III of the Sincere Trust company, where she finds work as a stenographer.
Back at the Priscilla, though, things have taken a sinister turn. The oriental (by way of Rose Hancock) hotel manager Mrs Meers (Bobbie-Jean Henning, having a ton of fun) has a profitable sideline in abducting girls for the Hong Kong white slave trade, and she soon has Millie’s nbf Dorothy (Laura Johnston) lined up for shipment.
Her evil designs are thwarted, of course, by Millie, Jimmy, Trevor, the loaded singing widow Muzzy Van Hossmere (Jessica van Wyk) and the Chinese laundry boys Ching Ho (David Ouch) and Bun Foo (Sean Miley Moore). Millie and Jimmy find each other, Muzzy turns out to be Jimmy and Dorothy’s good step-mother and, from far left field, Ching Ho and Dorothy find love among the laundry baskets.
The great strength of this year’s WAAPA corp is their dancing and ensemble work. Choreographer Jenny Lynnd has put together big numbers ranging from the classic (“Thoroughly Modern Millie”) to the inventive (“The Speed Test”), and they handle them with precision and aplomb. David King’s orchestra supports them powerfully (a little too much so for the vocalists early on) and, as always, Steve Nolan and his design team have the Regal stage looking fabulous on a decent, but not extravagant, budget.
The principals are fine, although perhaps a little less advanced than those of the past couple of years. Millie is a daunting part for a student (Julie Andrews and Sutton Foster have left big footprints to follow), but she’s at her best in the showstopper, Gimme Gimme, and perky throughout. She gets handsome support from the boys, fine turns from Henning, Johnston and, especially, Libby Asciak, who’s Miss Flannery, the dowdy head stenographer, kicks up her heels and runs away with the show.

An edited version of this review appeared in The West Australian 17.6.13

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