The 2019 Helpmann Award nominations are out with nods to some of our favourite plays and musicals of this year.
Thoroughly Modern Millie might be set in a bygone era, but its storytelling remains effortlessly timeless.
Exquisite tap dancing. Check. Gorgeous costumes. Check. Well-timed comedy balanced with much-needed drama. Check. Perfect leads. Check.
With an incredible ensemble cast in tow, Thoroughly Modern Millie will transport audiences to the heart of 1920s New York and take them along for an unforgettable ride.
That’s where we meet Millie Dillmount (Annie Aitken). A modest country girl who moves to the Big Apple with the hopes of finding a Rich Husband and setting herself up for life. But her dream seems much harder to achieve than the hope that her opening number is filled with, and by the end of the first song she is shoeless, bagless, and essentially homeless. That’s how she ends up at the Hotel Priscilla – a hotel for out of work actresses who too head to New York with big dreams in mind.
From there, Millie’s adventure really begins. She meets the sweetly owner of the Priscilla, Mrs Meers (Marina Prior), befriends rich-girl Miss Dorothy Brown (Claire Lyon) – don’t forget the Miss – trying her hand at the slum life, gets a job as a stenographer working for wealthy (AKA husband-material) businessman Trevor Graydon (Adam-Jon Fiorentino), and finds herself befriending her mortal enemy and party boy Jimmy Smith (Nigel Huckle).
Though what Millie doesn’t know, is the softly-spoken, sweetly-seeming Mrs Meers isn’t quite what she appears to be. Instead, she has coerced two Chinese brothers (Keith Brockett and Jonathan Chan) into helping fuel her international crime ring, kidnapping orphans and sending them as slaves to Hong Kong.
And to make things worse – Millie’s best friend Miss Dorothy is the next on her list.
Image credit: Jeff Busby
The lead cast are all perfect in their roles. Aitken dazzles in the lead role – she’s as charismatic as she is sweet, and as funny as she is talented, so you’ll find yourself falling for her even if you don’t agree with her “marry for money not love” notion. Lyon’s soaring soprano is so Disney Princess-esque that you can’t help but be wrapped in the sweetness of her character and Fiorentino too feels almost like a Disney prince – exactly the kind of boss you’d try and trick into marrying you. Huckle balances a powerful voice with just the right amount of spunk to completely convince us that he is every part the smooth-talking party boy, while Prior is every part evil while still expertly conveying an air of comedy.
Amidst the drama of international crime is a peek into the glitz and dazzle of New York, New York. From drunken nights at party-filled speakeasies, to a night in the slammer, and even the glamour of a showbiz party – it truly is a fabulous affair.
Driving the show along is the music – whether it’s a solo singalong or an ensemble performance, each musical number injects a new energy and life into the show. That’s before we even get to the tap-dancing – whether it’s purely for entertainment or used as a clever narrative device (no spoilers here, but the typewriter scene is particularly fabulous) the talent on show is incredible right across the cast.
While you won’t be forgetting Annie Aitken, Marina Prior, Claire Lyon, or Nigel Huckle anytime soon – a special mention must also be reserved for Queenie van de Zandt’s portrayal of the fabulous starlet Muzzy Van Hossmere. Oozing a quintessential 1920s New York starlet energy, her voice is beyond incredible and she provided many of the musical highlights.
There is so much to say about the cast, but we would be remiss not to mention everything happening around them. From the first moments of the production, when the main curtain rises halfway up the stage to reveal the full orchestra centre stage, they become a huge and hugely important part of the show. For the most part, even when in full view, they act as little more than an accompaniment, but at times they become a part of the show too. Under expert musical direction, they sound beyond excellent.
While the conclusion of the main plotline may be somewhat predictable, the sneaky twist thrown in at the end is enough to shock even the sleuthiest of detectives.
Thoroughly Modern Millie is escapism at it’s best. Be transported back to 1920s New York, enjoy the glitz, be dragged in by the danger, and be swept up by the love.
Thoroughly Modern Millie is now showing at Arts Centre Melbourne until Sunday 11 August. Tickets are available via Ticketmaster.com.au.