Initially Thoroughly Modern Millie was a comedy film script without songs. Julie Andrews had wanted to film The Boy Friend, Sandy Wilson's witty pastiche of a typical 1920s musical, in which she had made her debut on Broadway and which had led to her starring in Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, two of the most successful movies ever produced. The film rights were not available to her, so she suggested that Thoroughly Modern Millie, which was also set in the Roaring Twenties, should be turned into a musical.
Modern is used as a derogatory term. Millie is a gold-digging flapper, who is determined to marry a millionaire but, as is the way in musicals, she falls in love with a pauper and nobody is at all surprised when the pauper turns out to be a multi-millionaire.
The 1967 film, which was never that good, has been turned into a synthetic Broadway musical with new music by Jeanine Tesori and new lyrics by Dick Scanlan. Amazingly, it won 6 Tony awards, including best musical.
The songs arc not memorable. There is one good choreographic number for the toetapping typist pool.
The funniest moment is Craig Urbani (the thoroughly decent millionaire) falling in love on sight with Millie's best friend and bursting into an operatic aria.
The art-deco skyscrapers look pretty. There are two Chinese laundry men and there is a good joke in Cantonese, which the audience can easily appreciate when they sing Al Jolson's Mammy.
Amanda Holden has been cast as Millie is because she is a television name and good for the box office. Similarly, Maureen Lipman's pantomime performance, as an oriental white slave trafficker, is perfect for the coming Christmas season. Thoroughly Modern Millie is strictly for coach parties, who have as much right to theatre as anybody else. Theatregoers, however, should go and see Cole Porter's Anything Goes, which is vastly superior at every level music, lyrics, direction, choreography. acting and singing.
Fifty years ago at Wyndham's Theatre Anne Rogers created the leading role in Sandy Wilson's The Boy Friend, which was a huge success and ran for five years. (It is time The Boy Friend had another West End revival) Rogers is now back at Wyndhaan's in Over My Shoulder, Richard Stirling's
celebration of Jessie Matthews (19071981), who was one of the biggest stars of the musical stage in Britain in the 1930s. She was an outstanding dancer and famous for her sylph-like grace and high kicks.
The songs she made fatuous included Rodgers and Hart's "My Heart Stood Still" and "Dancing on the Ceiling", Noel Coward's "A Room with A View", Cole Porter's "Let's Do It" and Harry Woods's "Over My Shoulder" from Evergreen, the most famous British film musical in the 1930s.
The present compendium, mounted on the cheap, which is more suitable to a pub theatre venue than a West End theatre, has a major difficulty. The public no longer knows who Jessie Matthews was and Stirling's book is too superficial to enlighten them.
He doesn't go into details of her private life, thinking, no doubt correctly, that her mental traumas are inappropriate in a sentimental revue of this kind. Her stage career was all but over by the 1940s, though she did make a comeback on radio in Mrs Dale's Diary.
Anne Rogers plays the older Jessie Matthews looking back on her life and career. Jo Gibb plays Jessie's younger self. The production's high spots are an amusing piano duet, which opens the second half, and an extended curtain call. There is a delightful moment when you can see Rogers thinking it's not a good idea at her age to be doing a high kick arid getting a laugh and then, to the audience's delight, doing a high kick.
Rennie Harris Puremovement, which has its roots in the Afro-American urban ghettos, is a big disappointment after the excitement last year of Rome and Jewels, the. hiphop rap version of Romeo and Juliet, in which Juliet does not appear and which ends with Romeo and Mercutio killing each other.
The present show's proper venue is the street. The monologues about racism are smothered in dry ice and inaudible. A bare stage and tacky photographs is very boring. Only the last number, "Students of the Asphalt Jungle", is properly choreographed and gives the extremely young and easy-toplease audience the virtuoso head-spinning, body-popping, stomach-bouncing feats of physical strength and balance they have come to see.
Thoroughly Modern Millie is at Shaftesbury Theatre. Box Office: 020 7379 5399.
Over My Shoulder transfers to Theatre Royal, Windsor. Box Office 01753 853 888.
Rennie Harris Purernovement is touring the UK.
Anything Goes is at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Box Office: 0870 160 2878.