Thoroughly Modern Millie - AIMS Adjudicator's Critique 2011

Tuesday 5th April 2011 at 11:00 AM

The following is the public section of the show critique for our production of Thoroughly Modern Millie, by AIMS Adjudicator, :

"Oh dear Lord, let her be good," was my silent prayer upon realizing that Mary Heaney was the stage manager for Castlerea's production of Thoroughly Modern Millie. Would I be forced, I wondered, to criticize the President of AIMS? Could you imagine? And yet, to not stay true to the task would have been wrong. Hence, the prayer: just let her be good at her job; even mediocre. I'll settle for just not bad. Well, as many of you no doubt already know (what stone have I been hiding under?) Mary Heaney is good at her job; darned good. In fact, if you got the backstage tour, you might say just as well, as I'm still not sure how the set moved so smoothly back and forth in the very limited space. The venue, River Island, is a night club and Castlerea Musical Society transformed it into a theatre for their week long run. Though my guest and I had possibly the best seats in the house (next to the lighting man, who kindly gave me a little light), others complained of blasts of cold air from above, though possibly the worst problem for this group was the organization of so many people in a difficult venue. Full marks to Connie Gannon and her team; there were plenty of ushers, dressed in black tie and armed with torches, and they all seemed to know what they were doing.

The specifically constructed stage worked well enough - it was cleverly framed by a colourful backdrop - a sort of skyline I imagine, though it was a little oriental for New York City. However, Niall and Kevin Heaney's set was impressive; secretaries wheeled themselves in for an office set up, where they sat, sang and danced, all from authentic looking workstations - this show being set in the 1920's. A free-standing flat served very well as a more convincing city backdrop and The Pricilla Hotel, where Millie and the other girls stay, was achieved by the set up of five doors, all of which opened and closed smoothly. There was a laundry room, a night club and a dressing room too...many of these were cumbersome bulky pieces and while they really enhanced the show, especially given there was no curtain or other frame work here, things might have gone horribly wrong in the hands of a less competent stage manager, because there really was very little room backstage. However, there was clearly some clever choreography going on back there and plenty of stage crew, all of whom seemed on top of things.

First time director Niall Heaney paced the show extremely well, and there were some really comical moments, given strong direction; "Ah Sweet Mystery of Life" - this scene and song between Miss Dorothy (Michelle Donnellan) and Mr Graydon (David Cooke) still makes me chuckle. David Cooke was a delightful ham; and he had to be for this character to work; the sillier the better in fact. Chin Ho and Bun Foo, two abused Chinese workers played by Daniel Doherty and Ivan Moran also impressed; there was great discipline involved in getting their Chinese lingo so convincing - I'm still not sure if they were speaking Chinese or something that just sounded like it, but they seemed to know what they were talking about and I found this highly entertaining even before sub-titles were pointed out to me - on a TV screen possibly a little too far stage right. Mrs Meers, the villain of the show, was dramatically portrayed by Miriam Conroy. As she's only pretending to be Chinese herself, (it's part of her cunning plan), the actor used movement and voice to great effect as she stole across the stage looking suspicious all the while.

Julie Connolly was a delightful Millie - she brought out the sense of wonder and innocence in her character along with wonderful facial expression and singing was strong and confident. Stand out numbers were "Jimmy", with strong support from MD Dr Joseph Ryan, and "Gimme Gimme", which could have entertained as a standalone piece. There was a nice build up of chemistry between Millie and Jimmy, played by Anthony Flanagan and their relationship developed well. A self assured performer, each of Mr Flanagan's songs were engaging, in particular "What do I need with Love" and "I Turned a Corner", from the ledge of Millie's office window. Caroline Madigan as Muzzy the night club singer gave an energetic and breezy performance, with strong singing numbers and some comic moments too. Frances Cooke as Miss Flannery was also funny, and played the no nonsense part well.

"Forget about the Boy" was a great number with good back up from a strong female chorus, though not everyone as well rehearsed as they might have been. This also occurred to me a couple of times with some of the principals too, as delivery was a little unfocused in places. Choreographer Patricia McDermott understood the style well, and dances were imaginative while still keeping things 1920's. "The Speed Test" was a fine number, and introduced some competent tap dancers. The Pricilla Girls had good energy and performed well off each other. Director Niall Heaney allowed this strong chorus to shine during a scene in the police station where everyone got to be a joker, though he was also able to bring out a fine romance between Millie and Jimmy too. Chorus Mistress Heather Shine oversaw a strong group and I particularly enjoyed the girls for "Forget about the Boy". Dr Ryan was a thoroughly supportive MD and principals managed difficult numbers confidently. The orchestra played well, The "Speed Test" being particularly impressive. Overall sound was well balanced, though there were times when some singers were drowned out.

While the set looked great, it was greatly enhanced by very convincing props and I was impressed by Liam Walsh's attention to little details. Lighting was bright and cheery; lots of pinks and lilacs and everything on cue for the most part - some trouble with gobos and spots on the night I attended. Costumes, hired from Pat McGann and sourced within the group complimented the set well - principals generally clad in browns and beiges against more colourful costumes for the chorus, although when Millie needed to stand out, boy did she stand out (I want that gorgeous red 1920's sequenced number!) as did Miss Dorothy. Costume and makeup for Mrs Meers worked well also.

When I see how groups manage against difficult circumstances; unsuitable venues, limited space or budget restraints, it always serves as a reminder that this is what it's all about after all - the coming together of creative people; the journey along the way; the up's and the down's; the laughing and the sweating of blood...why do we do it to ourselves? Well, I think everyone reading this already knows the answer to that, and I am very sure that the people in Castlerea are rightly proud of their musical society.

Emer Halpenny
March 2011