Legally Blonde – Churchill Theatre Bromley (Touring)
Review by Beatrix Swanson Scott
Legally Blonde was first a novel, then a smash-hit film starring Reese Witherspoon, before it became the musical that premiered in 2007 on Broadway to mixed reviews but was a success in London’s West End. This almost year-long UK tour of the popular story of Elle Woods begins at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley.
Elle is from Malibu – president of her UCLA sorority, devoted to her chihuahua Bruiser and the colour pink and utterly in love with boyfriend Warner Huntington III. When against all odds she crosses the country to follow her love to Harvard Law School, she defies everyone’s expectations by learning to use her people and haircare skills, newfound knack for law and rosy wardrobe for good.
This well-known tale, full of both feel-good moments and rom-com clichés, adapts well for the stage. Nell Benjamin and Laurence O’Keeffe’s lyrics and music and clever and irresistibly catchy, whilst the story’s neat ending and overall happy-go-lucky-ness tie well into the musical form. This production’s look is over-the-top and blatantly kitsch – the sorority house screams Polly Pocket whilst the looming bookcases of Harvard have a distinct faux-Harry Potter feel. Aside from a few technical difficulties, set changes are well-managed. True, the production’s two adorable live dogs sometimes don’t want to come offstage when they should, but no audience member was complaining about. Of Anthony Williams and Dean Street’s choreography it must be said that it is very typically musical theatre, and works best when the dancers really embrace that fact.
A lot about this show sets it up for success – the book is funny, the story is well-known and loved, and the music is generally upbeat. However, this production takes quite a while to get going. The disappointingly static opening number, Omigod You Guys, has the sorority girls on unmoving bikes, depriving them of the impetus of movement. However, the impression that they’re trying to remember what they should be doing while singing and dancing soon subsides and they come to inhabit the silliness of their roles more and more.
Eurovision contestant Lucie Jones as Elle Woods, though her vocals are the perfect fit, seems to have the same problem – her performance does not initially embrace the ditsy blonde-ness that Elle must have a the beginning to make her character’s transition believable and interesting. One gets the impression that rather than being Elle Woods, Jones is watching herself be Elle Woods. Of course, it gets better – the entire production gradually picks up its energy, with So Much Better, the energetic group number before the interval, the best thing in the show up to that point. It is the ensemble numbers generally that shine in this production and have the impact one wishes the rest of the show did.
The audience loved this show. And of course, that’s the idea with Legally Blonde – you’re supposed to put the glaring clichés, obvious storyline and unashamed stereotypes aside and just enjoy it. One wonders why it’s still the norm with this type of show that television names rather than trained singers take the leads, so much reliance is placed on gimmicks of set and special effects, and a standing ovation is assumed by the directors. But there’s no denying that this is a very fun, if not perfectly polished, night out.