Romcom Legally Blonde makes for a feel-good musical that is as sparkling as pink champagne.
The 2001 American film, based on the novel by Amanda Brown and starring Reese Witherspoon, sees protagonist Elle Woods prove that one can never be overdressed or overeducated.
Pretty, popular and passionate about pink, fashion marketing student Elle is devastated when her boyfriend Warner Huntington III breaks up with her, declaring that he needs a more serious sweetheart befitting of the future he has planned. Elle is determined to win him back, so she shuns sorority parties, starts swotting and successfully bags herself a place to study alongside Warner at the prestigious Harvard Law School. Accompanied by her cute chihuahua, Bruiser, Elle remains unabashedly herself in her new surroundings. Pink princess and legal eagle, she essentially ends up falling in love with her own untapped potential.
Legally Blonde The Musical is an all-singing, all-dancing, fun-filled whirlwind of pink. Honestly, we are talking a plethora of pink – pale pink, baby pink, cerise pink, fuchsia pink – and enough giggles for you to have a smile plastered across your face for the duration. Written by Heather Hach, with music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin, the show perfectly captures the spirit of the film and provides an evening of colourful, fast-paced entertainment.
Although the songs are bubbly, occasionally wonderfully witty and always vibrantly performed, the Legally Blonde soundtrack in its entirety is relatively forgettable. This is not that surprising as the film is celebrated for its classic lines, rather than any fondness for singing, dancing or razzle-dazzle. (“You got into Harvard Law?” asks Warner. “What, like it’s hard?” retorts Elle.) Happily, all these iconic utterances stand out well in the musical, with excellent delivery from the entire cast.
The most notable songs are those that are character-driven and/or infused with camp comedy. Effervescent opener ‘Omigod You Guys’ engagingly sets the scene as chirpy sorority girls enter on bicycles before frolicking around their pink-hued (obviously!) house while they await news of Elle’s expected engagement. Later, curious courtroom chorus ‘There! Right There’ is a light-hearted cross-examination of a flamboyant pool guy. Is he gay or European?
Anthony Williams’ choreography is pacey and playful but does fall flat from time to time. Everything is neatly arranged, and the movement vocabulary feels aptly all-American with bright and breezy wiggles and jumps, cheerleader-style high kicks and pleasant pirouettes. Yet there are moments when the dancing seems somehow laboured and the moves come across as repetitive.
There are a few challenging, and crowd-pleasing, big dance numbers for the cast to throw themselves into. One high-energy offering depicts Elle presenting her entry essay to the professors at Harvard in person in the form of a cheerleading routine – complete with glittery (pink!) pom-poms.
Also worth a mention is the foray into the exercise videos of fitness guru turned murder suspect Brooke Wyndham, which opens the second act. Here the ensemble performers navigate the speedy rotations of glow-in-the-dark skipping ropes. Nimble Helen Petrovna hops, skips and jumps over her rope with reasonable ease as Brooke. Nonetheless, the scene is very exposing as even the slightest hint of clumsiness is magnified in routines this demanding.
Lucie Jones is full of life as Elle. She has great comic timing and injects her vivacious performance with just enough vulnerability to keep her character real. Jones (who represented the United Kingdom in Kiev at the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest, was a finalist in the 2009 series of The X Factor and boasts theatre credits including Rent, Ghost and Les Misérables) has a beautiful voice. She is not a natural dancer, but her enthusiasm makes up for any shortcomings and her charm ensures she carries off every costume – even if a couple are not the most flattering.
Rita Simons (best known for playing Roxy Mitchell in EastEnders) is marvellous as Elle’s confidante; the gutsy hairdresser Paulette Bonafonté. She has fantastic stage presence, an amazing vocal range and heaps of personality – particularly when attempting the “bend and snap” move to get a man’s attention.
Paulette loves her pet pooch, a brutish British bulldog named Rufus, almost as much as Elle dotes on her teeny tiny chihuahua, Bruiser. This is a big show for dogs, so big in fact that the producers held auditions in February to find a local canine to play Rufus during the Milton Keynes stretch of the tour. Winning hound Alfie certainly seems to be enjoying his time on the stage!
Bill Ward (well-known for his television work, particularly in the role of Charlie Stubbs for three years on Coronation Street and in the role of James Barton for three years on Emmerdale) is a commanding Professor Callahan who can carry a tune – although he did seem to be struggling not to chuckle at the scene’s cheesiness at one point.
David Barrett is satisfyingly dishy but dorky as Law teaching assistant Emmett Forrest. Of course, once Elle introduces him to the wonders of the department store, Emmett looks more dapper, in line with the musical’s fantastical fashion fetish. Still, the message remains one of encouragement and self-belief. Elle proves that it is possible to be both smart and stylish, without ever losing sight of who she is or deriding anyone else.
If we gauge the audience members’ collective reaction as if they were a jury, the verdict for this show would be unanimously positive – evidenced by cheers and whistles throughout and a standing ovation at the end. My final judgement? Legally Blonde The Musical is an incredibly enjoyable production that you should totally [bend and] snap up tickets for. Case closed!
Legally Blonde continues at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 2 June 2018.
Georgina Butler is an editor, a dance writer and a ballet teacher.