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A CurtainUp London Review
The show is a frothy, frivolous but enjoyable romp through stereotypical viewpoints about Californian blondes and Harvard academics. The satire is at its best when Elle's golf carting father asks why she wants to go to Harvard when "they all have different noses there." The unsaid wry comment being about the prevalence of cosmetic surgery adopted by Californians seeking body beautiful, physical perfection and nose jobs.
The perfection in Legally Blonde is in Sheridan Smith's charming performance. We know she can sing and dance but the real treat is her comic timing and intelligence as she sparkles, extracting every ounce of wit from the script. I was worried about the group diction in Sorority Delta Nu's opening number "Omigod You Guys," but Sheridan Smith's sung lyrics are as clear as a bell.
When Elle makes her first ultra speedy costume change I thought she might have had lessons from Arturo Bracchetti! She has an appealing quality which makes us want her to succeed whereas her Nemesis, Vivienne Kensington (Caroline Keiff), seems initially haughty and unpleasant, setting up Elle to go to an ordinary dress party as if it is fancy dress costume — all of which of course backfires when Vivienne's now boyfriend Warner (Duncan James) loves the Bunny Girl outfit on his ex-girl friend Elle.
Experienced musical performer Alex Gaumond takes on the role of Emmett Forrest, the earnest poor boy who makes it to Harvard and who there befriends Elle. While he may not have the suaveness of Warner with his impeccable pedigree, Emmett is clearly a great ally and in Alex Gaumond's hands his decency shines through.
There are also other actors who are stars in their own right; for example, Aoife Mulholland, one of the television reality audition contest Marias, as the fitness instructress Brooke whose defence in the court case propels legal intern Elle into the limelight. The fitness routine "Whipped Into Shape" with skipping ropes set in the prison is a choreography highlight, dramatic, original and timed to perfection. The Sorority greeting routine for Delta Nu is executed by Aoife and Sheridan with skill. Jill Halfpenny, again known to television viewers but through 2004's Strictly Come Dancing!, sings strongly as hairdresser Paulette. The mock Riverdance as Paulette finds her handsome Irish sweetheart Kyle (Chris Ellis-Stanton) is showy and fun as a send up. Susan McFadden leads Elle's friends from home in the Greek chorus as Serena. Many of these supporting performers have been the leading role in West End musicals. I was less comfortable watching the lampooned gay characters Nikos (Dan Burton) and Carlos (Sergio Priftis) although I did enjoy the concept of the "Gay or European?" dilemma.
The dogs are great scene stealers: Elle's Chihuahua improbably named Bruiser (Jojo, Pongo or playing himself, Bruiser) and her hairdresser friend, Paulette's (Jill Halfpenny) soppy Bulldog Rufus (Ronnie or Monty). Duncan James of the British boy band Blue who plays Elle's Harvard bound boyfriend Warner Huntington III was sometimes looking at the audience rather than at Elle when he takes her out and sings "Serious" and so too does Paulette's gorgeous dog who sits with his back to the audience but sneaks several looks at the admiring patrons to the sound of many "Awhs and Ahs". In all fairness ,Warner is not as involved with her as Elle is with him, so not looking at her is artistically legitimate. Duncan James is nicely understated as Warner although I suspect many of the screams are for him.
The songs, while pleasant enough, don't have a hummability. "The Harvard Derivations" seems ironically derivative of Lloyd Webber's "Dangerous Jade" from Evita. But they are all sung well and the choreography is diverting if not jaw dropping. The sets and costumes have come across the Atlantic intact and feature Corinthian columns in unlikely pastel colours and bright pink with costumes true to the originals.
We hear so much about the need to attract a younger audience into theatre. Curtain Up's London critic falls far from the intended demographic for Legally Blonde and still had a good time, so surely this show will run. We know that Wicked! is into its fourth London year and Hairspray's momentum persists in its third year, so the expectation is that Legally Blonde will do as well. Savoy Court has been converted into a giant photo opportunity with life size photos of the stars on a white tarpaulin backdrop and many waiting to greet the cast. It's just as well that it is undergoing renovation else it would have been a noisy time for the hotel visitors of the upmarket Savoy!
Despite having a song called "Serious", Legally Blonde is an enjoyable flibbertigibbet of a theatre show in a world of happy endings but one which may inspire a life time love of musical theatre in its young audience.
For the review of this production in New York, which includes a list of the songs, go here Legally Blonde
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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