Thoroughly Modern Millie, Shaftesbury Theatre, London

More perspiration than inspiration in a thoroughly middling Millie
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The Independent Culture

This is the kind of admission that can lose you friends and the last vestiges of credibility, but I must confess to a sneaking affection for the original movie version of Thoroughly Modern Millie.

True, it's ludicrously overblown and Julie Andrews is so miraculously wholesome that watching her is akin to being hosed down with Dettox. But, golly gosh and gee whizz, the film boasts considerably more genuine charm than this new stage version which, having snapped up a Tony Award on Broadway, now tap-dances its invincibly determined way into the West End.

Slickly directed by Michael Mayer, the theatrical adaptation sticks to the same basic plot. At the height of the flapper-era, Kansas-raised Millie Dilmont (Amanda Holden) arrives in New York, resolving to follow Vogue's advice to the "new woman" to marry money in the shape of a loaded boss.

While making the attempt, she stumbles on a white slave trade racket, run by the sinister Mrs Meers, oriental house-mother of her all-girls' hotel, and finds her heart torn between the corporate stuffed-shirt who employs her as stenographer (a very funny satire of stereotypical square-jawed manliness from Craig Urbani) and Jimmy Smith, the covert millionaire masquerading as a penniless chancer (whose wastrel attractiveness is somewhat under-characterised by Mark McGee).

We all know that the main reason why films are transferred to stage (and vice versa) is to wring more profit from basic property. The procedure is justified if the change of medium gives you fresh new angles on the material and releases latent energies. That happens only fitfully here.

There's a scene wherean office of stenographers evoke feverish typing while tap-dancing under their desk-on-wheels and a speed dictation test is presented through an ever-faster Gilbert and Sullivan patter-song (pity about the duff wording).

The make-over of Mrs Meers into a frustrated Broadway thespian out to revenge herself on young hopefuls is also droll. In the film, thanks to the eccentric genius of Beatrice Lillie, there was no need to equip this exotic villainess with any specific motivation. Unlike here where, looking like a botoxed Widow Twanky, Maureen Lipman snarls her lines in an accent that is Hull pretending to be RP pretending to New York pretending to be Chinese.

It's also rather sweet that one of her Oriental helpers falls in love with Millie's friend Miss Dorothy and that the Hong Kong brothers get to sing a homesick version (with wonderfully silly surtitles) of Al Jolson's "Mammy".

Here's the downside. Even for a spoof of the 1920s, the new songs (music by Jeanine Tesori, with lyrics by Dick Scanlon) are generic to the point of anonymity.

Ms Holden's Millie is comparably bland, so unimpeachable in voice and looks as to seem computer-generated. Theatrical challenges, such as how you present the duet on the ledge of a skyscraper or the tap-dancing needed to make the hotel lift work, have not spurred the creators on to new heights of invention. Instead of inspiration, perspiration.

The beleaguered IDS and Betsy were at the first night, perhaps picking up tips from Mrs Meers about how to eliminate the Tory plotters. Trust him to have missed where the real action is - at Anything Goes on Drury Lane.

There's an authentic, wonderfully witty period musical that is to Thoroughly Modern Millie what an exquisitely mixed Old Fashioned is to a glass of robust plonk.

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