Broadway smash hit Legally Blonde The Musical is a ridiculously enjoyable show. It opened at The Savoy Theatre in December 2009 and has been playing to packed audiences ever since. What’s more, it won the award for Best New Musical at the 2011 Laurence Olivier Awards in March.
After months of promising myself I would go and see this bubbly show, I made a visit to The Savoy Theatre part of a girly trip to London.
Clutching my ticket with perfectly manicured fingernails (painted pink in honour of the occasion, of course), I entered the gorgeous West End auditorium. Every theatre has its own vibe and the overwhelming feeling I was getting from both the building and the assembled audience was one of excitement and enthusiasm.
While the audience for the matinee performance admittedly was largely female, a surprising number of men were looking similarly cheerful in anticipation of the curtain rising. And they had no reason not to enjoy Legally Blonde The Musical as the brilliant songs, witty lines and energetic dance numbers were performed by a well-rounded and talented cast.
For those not familiar with the 2001 film starring Reese Witherspoon, the story follows sorority president, Homecoming Queen and LA fashion student Elle Woods.
She is a big hit on campus with all the guys (and the girls in her sorority house think she is pretty amazing too) but when perfect boyfriend Warner Huntingdon III declares he is off to Harvard Law School and needs a similarly blue-blooded, “serious” partner, Elle is devastated. The perky blonde is not deterred for long though. She soon hatches a plan to get into Harvard Law School and win back Warner’s heart from his old flame, the snooty Vivian Kensington.
Armed with her best outfits and little Chihuahua, Bruiser, Elle gains a place at Harvard and certainly makes an impression with her frothy pink style and fresh outlook on life. However, while on campus, teaching assistant Emmet Richardson catches Elle’s eye. He helps her to knuckle down and get a place on a case defending a woman charged with the murder of her wealthy husband. In her battle to be taken seriously, Elle proves that despite having a penchant for malls, makeup and beauty salons, courtroom victory can be hers. She even gets her man – despite it not being the one she was originally chasing.
Legally Blonde The Musical has all the sassiness of the original film.
The sub-plot in which Elle helps out Paulette – a lovelorn, quirky beautician – is fabulously transferred to the stage. The scenes with the down-at-heart, kooky Paulette (played by Natalie Casey, series regular Donna in the BBC’s Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps) are witty, warm and wonderfully performed with oodles of comedy.
Even the sublime silliness of the final courtroom scene translates brilliantly to the stage. This scene is the major point at which Elle solves the murder and gets her confession by discovering that the sexual preference of the defendant’s pool guy is key to the murder. The silliness is enhanced by having the question of the pool guy’s sexual preference turned into a big show-stopping production number asking ‘Is He Gay or European?’ – a tune that I found myself humming long after the train journey home.
Significantly, Legally Blonde The Musical does not take itself too seriously and with its tongue-in-cheek numbers and fast and fun choreography it is simple, feel-good escapism. A splendid performance from the little Chihuahua (he is positively scene-stealing) and a cameo appearance from a British bulldog makes this a big show for dog lovers too!
The vivacious Elle Woods was played by Susan McFadden (brother of Westlife member Brian McFadden and winner of ITV reality show Grease Is The Word where she won the role of Sandy in the West End production of Grease, 2007). Ditzy but loveable Elle was brought to life beautifully by McFadden and of the 18 songs in the show, the leading lady sings 16 of them, as well as having an impressive 19 costume changes.
Dishy Emmett Forrest was portrayed by Lee Mead (winner of the BBC’s Any Dream Will Do, which saw him become “The People’s Joseph” in the West End hit musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat at the Adelphi Theatre). He mastered the American twang and hit the high notes as we would expect.
Cast changes are par for the course with West End shows but the sheer escapism and fabulous music and lyrics make this production one to catch no matter who takes the lead roles.
Stand-out songs in Legally Blonde The Musical include the catchy chorus to ‘Omigod You Guys’ and the laugh-out-loud ‘Bend and Snap’ (a ditty to the apparently tried-and-tested method to snare yourself an unsuspecting – straight – guy). The pop-music style show tunes are infinitely enjoyable and the moral message not to judge on appearance, in addition to the necessary happy ending, makes for two hours of fabulous entertainment.
Like, Ohmigod! I’m totally going to go see Legally Blonde The Musical again!
Update 30 May 2018: Read my review of Legally Blonde The Musical at Milton Keynes Theatre.
Georgina Butler is an editor, a dance writer and a ballet teacher.