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Legally Blonde at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

The background stays largely the same throughout the performance, and appears to resemble the hairstyle of Elle Woods (Courtney Bowman). Regardless, the unchanging backdrop makes Woods’ bedroom looks much the same as a lecture theatre, a hairdressing salon and a courthouse (amongst other places). It is only when the action shifts to a bathroom (minus any pants down demonstrations of what would reasonably be expected to occur in a bathroom) that there is a significant change of colour scheme. Even the costumes are, for the most part, similarly coloured, with somewhat less than fifty shades of pink adorning the stage for large ensemble numbers, save for a courtroom scene in which Professor Callahan (Eugene McCoy) instructs his legal team, not all of whom are blonde, to dress appropriately.

Courtney Bowman (Elle) and Ensemble in Legally Blonde at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. Photo Pamela Raith.
Courtney Bowman (Elle) and Ensemble in Legally Blonde at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. Photo Pamela Raith.

The stage is on three levels, which presumably makes for interesting viewing from the very front rows. A central circular section looks like a turntable, but is never used as a revolve. It is only later in the evening at the Open Air Theatre, simply because of nightfall, that the lighting design (Philip Gladwell) really comes into its own. The use of actors in place of actual dogs not only removes questions with regards to animal welfare in an all-singing, all-dancing musical in central London but also furnishes Bruiser’s (Liam McEvoy) appearances with raucous laughter from the audience, as opposed to oohs and aahs.

The production’s overall hamminess works better for some characters than others: the expressive hairdresser Paulette (Nadine Higgin) is nothing short of a delightful hoot. It’s rather a pity, then, that the staging for what must surely be a busy and bustling high street hair salon comes down to a tacky sign reading ‘The Hair Affair’ and one backless stool. The sparseness of it is compounded by the size of the Regent’s Park stage. The trade-off comes in some extraordinary choreography in the Act Two opening number ‘Whipped Into Shape’, which sees Brooke Windham (Lauren Drew), a high profile personal trainer with a substantial social media following, and her team deploy several skipping ropes at high speed without the slightest concern of any of the ropes possibly getting tangled.

The sound came across to me as rather tinny, as though I were listening to music using a pair of very cheap headphones, though I was able to hear every lyric (even if a couple of people said to me at the interval they could not). Woods’ ‘Greek chorus’ replicates director Lucy Moss’ previous work with Six, comprising, as they do, six people with handheld microphones commanding the stage as though it were a concert performance.

The storyline is not exactly watertight, at least partly because law practitioners have picked holes in it – for instance, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Rule 3.03, referenced in the show, has apparently been misapplied and wouldn’t actually, in practice, allow Woods to do in real life what she does in the musical. Such matters, are of course, hardly the production’s fault. Arguing such points reflect the kind of legal technicalities that are part and parcel of the show’s narrative, and indeed help to ensure the musical’s happy ending, but also deflect from the entertainment value the show provides, as well as its wider messages about doing the right thing even if it comes at a personal cost, and staying true to one’s word.

And anyway, the production doesn’t take itself too seriously. It has been refreshed and brought up-to-date, to an extent – the pieces of paper that graced the 2009-2012 production at the Savoy Theatre have been replaced by mobile phones and instant messaging. But the diverse casting, unproblematic in itself, ironically highlights quite how ‘binary’ (that is, un-non-binary) the plotline remains. Still, it’s a joyous production with a palpable feel-good factor. I was humming the show’s melodies in my head on the Tube home: make of that what you will.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Omigod you guys, meet fashion merchandising major Elle Woods (Courtney Bowman) and her college sweetheart Warner Huntington III (Alistair Toovey). Popular, stylish, they have the perfect relationship. That is until Warner heads to Harvard Law School and decides that he needs a more ‘serious’ kind of girlfriend.

Dumped, Elle embarks on a drastic plan to win him back. But, on the way, she discovers that there’s more to love – and definitely Elle Woods – than meets the eye. Directed by Lucy Moss, co-writer and co-director of the smash-hit musical SIX, it’s time to bend and snap, people!

CREATIVE TEAM
Carter Bellaimey – Dialect Coach
Cassiopeia Berkeley-Agyepong – Dramaturg
Cat Beveridge – Musical Supervisor
Jean Chan – Costume and Co-Wigs, Hair and Make Up Designer
Shanaé Chisholm – Casting Assistant
Natalie Gallacher for Pippa Ailion Casting – Casting Director
Tony Gayle – Sound Designer
Philip Gladwell – Lighting Designer
Laura Hopkins – Set Designer
Barbara Houseman – Voice & Text and Season Associate Director
Ellen Kane – Choreography and Musical Staging
Ingrid Mackinnon – Season Associate: Intimacy Support
Lucy Moss – Director
Priya Patel Appleby – Associate Director
Chris Poon – Associate Musical Director
Queen Bee – Wigs, Hair and Make Up Designer
Ainsley Hall Ricketts – Assistant Choreographer
Alexzandra Sarmiento – Assistant Choreographer
Amber Sinclair-Case – Associate Director
Katharine Woolley – Musical Director
With thanks – to Harrison Knights for casting consultancy support

COMPANY
Michael Ahomka-Lindsay – Emmett
Gabriela Benedetti – Ensemble
Courtney Bowman – Elle Woods
Lucca Chadwick-Patel – Ensemble
Hannah Yun Chamberlain – Serena
Jasmin Colangelo – Ensemble
Allie Daniel – Ensemble
Lauren Drew – Brooke
Vanessa Fisher – Vivienne
Joe Foster – Ensemble
Isaac Hesketh – Margot
Nadine Higgin – Paulette
Dominic Lamb – Ensemble
Esme Laudat – Ensemble
Alžbeta Matyšáková – Enid
Eugene McCoy – Callahan
Liam McEvoy – Ensemble
Grace Mouat – Pilar
Billy Nevers – Ensemble
Ashley Rowe – Swing
Shakira Simpson – Swing
Biancha Szynal – Swing
Paulo Teixeira – Swing and Dance Captain
Alistair Toovey – Warner

Original Production by Hal Luftig, Fox Theatricals, Dori Berinstein, James L. Nederlander, Independent Presenters Network, Roy Furman, Amanda Lipitz, Broadway Asia, Barbara Whitman, FWPM Group, Ruth Hendel, Cheryl Wiesenfeld, Hal Goldberg, David Binder, James D. Stern, Dougals L. Meyer, Stewart F. Lane, Bonnie Comley, Robert G. Bartner, Michael A. Jenkins, Albert Nocciolino and Warren Trepp; Produced in association with MGM Onstage, Darcie Denkert and Dean Stolber.

LEGALLY BLONDE
13 May 2022 – 02 July 2022
https://openairtheatre.com/

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