Legally Blonde, as most people know, was the Golden Globe-nominated comedy that made a star of Reese Witherspoon. The stage version, written by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin, was no less successful, winning three Olivier Awards during its West End run at the Savoy Theatre. And now the show’s been revived by Ovation at the Gatehouse, in an irresistible, high-energy production guaranteed to make even the grumpiest among us smile.
I’m always impressed when fringe theatres take on musicals, especially one as popular as Legally Blonde; this cast and crew have some huge (pink, high-heeled) shoes to fill. But John Plews’ production is more than up to the challenge – along with musical director Matt Abrams and choreographer Anthony Whiteman, he’s somehow concentrated all that energy and excitement into a much smaller space, with a cast of just twelve (plus stage manager Izabel Alvares Florence, who makes a brief appearance as Chutney). And what we might lose in spectacle, the show more than makes up for in entertainment value.
The cast are led by Abbie Chambers, who shines in her professional debut as Elle Woods, the sorority queen trying to win back her ex-boyfriend by going to Harvard law school, only to prove to everyone – and herself – that you should never judge a book by its cover. Chambers has the relentless perkiness of the character, but also nails the more wistful moments too, making Elle a believable heroine who it’s easy to root for. Jodie Jacobs is also sensational as Elle’s friend Paulette, whose obsession with finding a nice man from Ireland provides a very funny – if slightly random – subplot not seen in the movie.
This addition aside, the show largely remains faithful to the original screenplay, with just one other major departure in the significant beefing up of the role of Emmett (Ross Barnes), the fourth year law student who supports Elle in her fight to be taken seriously.
So if you know the movie, it’s easy enough to follow along, although a few of the best lines do get lost during some of the more hectic moments. And there are plenty of those: Elle’s hyperactive friends getting excited about her impending engagement; a full-on fitness routine during which Aimee Barrett somehow manages to sing and skip simultaneously (let’s be honest, most of us would struggle to manage one at a time); not to mention the wildly un-PC yet totally fabulous courtroom number Gay or European. Nobody can say this show’s holding anything back.
With the help of some lightning fast costume changes, the cast handle multiple roles with ease, and a commitment that proves there really are no small parts. Adam Crossley is wonderful as an overenthusiastic admissions officer, a pompous fellow student and a pool boy giving evidence at Elle’s first trial. Chris Durtnal milks every second of his role as Kyle, the sexy new UPS delivery guy at Paulette’s salon… not that anyone seemed to mind him strutting around in his tiny shorts. And even Bruiser the dog, who’s played by a soft toy, gets a couple of lines (well, barks) – and performs them beautifully.
Much like its heroine, Legally Blonde looks great and is a lot of fun, but don’t be fooled into thinking the show’s all fluff and no substance; there’s a serious message in there if you look hard enough. Ovation’s nineteenth Christmas production is a fantastic revival of a great show – I look forward to seeing if their twentieth can top it.
Review by Liz Dyer
Legally Blonde The Musical
Music & Lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe & Nell Benjamin
Book by Heather Hach
Based on the novel by Amanda Brown and the MGM movie
Winner of three Olivier Awards including ‘Best Musical’, Legally Blonde The Musical is an all-singing, all-dancing romantic comedy.
The show follows the story of sorority president Elle Woods as she crosses the country on a mission to find love at Harvard Law School.
Elle Woods – ABBIE CHAMBERS
Paulette – JODIE JACOBS
Warner – ROBERT COLVIN
Emmett Forrest – ROSS BARNES
Professor Callahan – HUGH OSBORNE
Also in the cast are SUZIE ARIES, AIMEE BARRETT, ADAM CROSSLEY, LILY DE-LA-HAYE, CHRIS DURTNAL, EMMA INGRAM, and SCOTT NORTON.
Director – John Plews
Musical Director – Matt Abrams
Choreographer – Anthony Whiteman
Lighting Designer – Sam Waddington
Designer – Isobel Power Smith
Costume Supervisor – Yasmin Kaberry
Sound Designer – Jon Raper
Casting – Harry Blumenau
PRODUCED by KATIE PLEWS for OVATION
16th December 2015 – 31st January 2016
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes approximately, with one 15-minute interval