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Wednesday, June 29, 2011


(Robyn Johnson as Millie Dillmount)

Northcliff High youthful talent back in Durban for what promises to be a successful 13th visit. (Review by Caroline Smart)

The number 13 is usually considered unlucky but seeing as I overturned my little Fiat coming home from a rehearsal when I lived in Pietermaritzburg on a Friday the 13th way back when and both car and I survived without mishap - except for a slightly dented roof for the plucky Fiat – the number 13 doesn’t hold any concerns for me.

It looks as if producer/director Neil Jourdan is going to drive through with the same success with his latest production from the visionary Northcliff High School which believes that its drama team should take their skills further afield in the same way as their sports teams.

Thoroughly Modern Millie sees the most youthful cast to date including the principals most of whom are only in Grade 10. As Nick Jourdan says in his programme notes: “What they lack in experience, they certainly make up for in enthusiasm and this bodes well for the future.”

Barring some serious sound imbalances and mic problems, which no doubt will be sorted out before the next performance, this is another delightful production from Northcliff. The original story and screen play by Richard Morris was featured for the 1967 Universal Pictures Film which starred Julie Andrews, James Fox, Mary Tyler Moore and Carol Channing. Taken from the book by Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan, this production features new music by Jeanine Tesori and new lyrics by Dick Scanlan. When it was first staged on Broadway in 2002, it garnered no less than seven Tony awards including best new musical.

The storyline is about a naiive, young woman who decides to head for the bright lights of New York City to find a boss to marry. She is mugged shortly after her arrival and, on the advice of a passerby (who is to play a major role in her life), she enrols at an establishment that houses wannabee actresses. While it’s a fun and entertaining story, there is a darker side in that the owner is using her business as a front to sell young girls with no families into slavery in the Orient. As in all good stories, she gets her comeuppance in the end which holds its own surprises.

Northcliff brings its own team from performers to stage crew thus providing them with highly valuable experience working in a professional theatre. One can’t help but wish that professional companies had the budget to tour productions in this way so that there is one initial creation process with a budget for a touring programme so that the rest of the country can enjoy and identify the skills of the considerable talent we have in the performing arts industry.

Robyn Johnson gives a stand-out and mature performance as Millie Dillmount (especially in Gimme Gimme, closely followed by Ekene Nkadu (Miss Dorothy Brown), Bongo Kabingezi (Trevor Graydon) and Nobukhosi Mazibuko (Muzzy van Hossmere). William Smit as Jimmy Smith and Kirsten Barnard as Mrs Meers also impressed and Siphephelo Ndlovu and Rudie Opperman were a delight as Mrs Meers’ sidekicks, Ching Ho and Bun Foo, who are required to speak in Chinese. Whether this is authentic or not, I can’t tell but at least the sur-titles provide an amusing translation!

The tap dance skills of this company are admirable and there are some enjoyable scenes in the office while Millie is proving her typing prowess at her desk while the rest of the secretaries look on in awe. The show is full of amusing send-ups from the Gilbert and Sullivan-styled the Speed Test, Al Jolson’s My Mammy, Jeanette Macdonald and Nelson Eddy’s Ah Sweet Mystery of Life Another memorable scene is the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers send-up with Millie, Miss Dorothy and Trevor Graydon.

Attractively costumed, Thoroughly Modern Millie runs in the Playhouse Drama until July 3, with matinees on July 2 at 14h00 and on July 3 at 15h00. Booking is at Computicket. – Caroline Smart